Oct 262014
 

BooneRendaKieboom102614The AFL passed its midpoint with yesterday’s game, which saw Mesa demolish Surprise, 14-0. Thanks to the vagaries of a three-team division and sharing it with the league’s best team, the Solar Sox won’t be playing in the title game, though it should be noted that also means Nats fans won’t have to listen to Tom Verducci or someone of his ilk parrot the press guide while calling the title game on MLB Network.

Felipe Rivero, who left his previous start with a turned ankle per our Arizona correspondent, continues to struggle as he was strafed for five runs on Friday in a 9-4 loss to raise his pitcher’s line to 9.00/5.53/1.85.

Tony Renda, who was hitless in his first five games, has quietly put together a six-game hit streak to raise his batting average to something resembling a starter instead of a pitcher.

Catchers Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino, who are splitting time with Toronto’s Sean Ochinko, are both hitting (.273 and .375 respectively) despite their limited game action.

Relievers Derek Self, Matt Grace, and Neil Holland aren’t being used terribly often, but they’ve combined for six scoreless innings over four appearances this past week.

WINTER LEAGUE SIGHTINGS
As noted a couple of weeks ago, the Dominican Winter League has started up and with it have come the following sightings of Nats players and farmhands:

Emmanuel Burriss, Oscar Tejeda (Cibao)
Jhonatan Solano, Manny Delcarmen (Licey)
Pedro Florimon (Escogido)
Tyler Moore (Este)

And the following players have also surfaced in the Venezuelan Winter League:

Mitch Lively (Magallanes)
Sandy Leon, Adrian Sanchez (Zulia)

POTOMAC NATIONALS
Season-ticket holders in Woodbridge (*ahem*) have been treated to quite a run over the past eight seasons: five playoff appearances (2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014), four trips to the Mills Cup Finals (2008, 2010, 2013, 2014), and three championships (2008, 2010, 2014). Only once in that span did they have a losing season (2012) while the 2009 club won 42 games in the second half while falling four games short to the Blue Rocks in a furious finish.

Unfortunately, those three titles remain the only ones won by a Nationals full-season affiliate. Hagerstown has come oh-so-close the past two seasons while Harrisburg has fallen in the first round three times (2010, 2011, 2013). The narrative hope with any league championship is that the spirit of winning is instilled and will carry on as the baby Nats grow up into big Nats, which will be badly needed as some of the 2014 Potomac guys head to Harrisburg in 2015.

The 78-win P-Nats were not statistical monsters: 3rd in the league offensively, 5th in pitching, 3rd defensively. Their hallmark was the walkoff win, which they did 14 times, and they were phenomenal in one-run games (32-13). But most importantly, once they got the lead, they held onto it: 50-1 when leading after eight innings, 55-2 when they were ahead after the seventh. That combination of (p)luck enabled them to outperform their Pythagorean projection (69-67) by an astounding nine games and carried over into the playoffs where they took three of four from a team that had beaten them five out of the previous six meetings and 11 of 19 overall.

And now I present to you the obligatory Top 5’s:

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Tony Renda, 2B, .266 GPA, .980 FA 1. Ian Dickson, RHP, 4.37/4.20/1.32, 2.64 ERA in 2nd half
2. Stephen Perez, SS, .249 GPA, 27SB 2. Gilberto Mendez, RHP, 3.14/3.21/0.89, 8.54 K/9, 1.57 BB/9
3. Pedro Severino, C, .237 GPA, 36 CS% 3. John Simms, RHP, 4.36/3.13/1.23, 2HR in 49⅔ IP
4. John Wooten, 3B/1B/OF, .263 GPA, .473 SLG% 4. Matt Spann, LHP, 3.81/4.09/1.38, 70.1 LOB%
5. Isaac Ballou, CF, .256 GPA, .991FA 5. Bryan Harper, LHP, 2.66/3.52/1.14, .198 OBA


Honorable mentions go to Shawn Pleffner and Kylin Turnbull, a pair of 24-year-olds who turned 25 in August and September respectively. As mentioned last week, we have a hit a point where we can no longer gloss over the advanced age of some of these players, which is necessarily their fault as the Nats do have a tendency to both draft collegiate ballplayers while conservatively moving them up the ladder (though 2014 did see a handful of three-level players). Folks interested in viewing the exploits of all 63 players (including 10 rehab assignments) can see them here.

Dec 292013
 


It’s always interesting to me to do this piece and see what stories emerged from a given year. I look over the archives, letting chronology dictate a few of my choices, but by the end of the list it becomes thematic. Likewise, what begins as a list of names starts to morph into narratives, for which the name becomes emblematic (sorry, sometimes the rhyming thing just happens).

As I wrote after the (minor league) season’s end, the Nationals have reached a point where they can replace and reload on a regular basis, though it may not be quite the way folks want it to be. I’d explain further, but I think I’ve just written the segue for the first and last story of 2013…

The Re-Acquisition of A.J. Cole
Cole was dealt away in December 2011 in what was a shock then, but would become a shrug by the end of this year. For the casual fan, this was the trade of a favorite son (Mike Morse) for one GM Mike Rizzo’s former draft picks and a couple of roster-fillers. Instead, it was the classic value play as Morse suffered his worst year at the MLB level while Cole rebounded to match the hype, one of “other guys” started 20 games for AA Harrisburg, and the other made 32 appearances for the big club.

The Rule 5 Draft
What used to be an exercise in who the Nats would get has since changed to worry about who would be lost, despite the track record. Last year’s “losses” (Danny Rosenbaum and Jeff Kobernus) were returned this year in spring training, which is the smart money for the fate of this year’s draftee, Adrian Nieto, in March.

Anthony Rendon Comes To Town
Twice, actually. The first time was as an injury replacement for Ryan Zimmerman, who by the way, was the last Nats position player in recent memory to spend less than 80 games in the minors before making it to “The Show.” The second time was to effectively replace the ineffective Danny Espinosa, begging the question of whether that was the plan all along — even if both players entered 2013 with significant health questions (shoulder for Espinosa, ankles for Rendon).

Taylor Jordan
A year ago, Jordan was a 23-y.o. who had yet to pitch above Low-A and one of several pitchers in the system that had had his UCL replaced. At best, he might replicate the 2012 season of Nathan Karns, who was drafted three rounds later in 2009. Instead, Jordan topped it, steamrolling the competition at High-A and AA with a line of 1.00/2.25/0.92 in 90⅓ innings and leapfrogging Karns as the proverbial #6 starter with a callup at the end of June.

Billy Burns
About the only award that escaped the pint-sized speedster was the Player of the Week as the 74-steal man garnered nods for midseason and postseason All-Star teams in the Carolina League and the Nationals Player of the Year award. The switch-hitting outfielder still led the Carolina League in steals despite only playing in 91 games. Alas, for all his accolades, he was traded to Oakland along with…

Robbie Ray
While he may have only been 20 during his disastrous 2012 season, the turnaround Ray made in 2013 was nevertheless impressive. He cut his ERA from 6.56 to 3.36, his WHIP from 1.62 to 1.25 and increased his K rate from 7.3 to 10.1. The walks and HRs weren’t lowered as sharply (only slightly), which is something his fans will have to watch for in 2014.

The GCL Nationals
Maybe they were simply beating on three weaklings over and over again, but the G-Nats set the standard for dominance that will be used as a measuring stick for the Gulf Coast League for years to come. More important is the inference that the Nats pipeline from the Dominican has recovered, if not improved, from the depths of the 2009 scandal that led to the ouster of the previous GM.

Outfield Depth
This was the year when the hype matched the production for Michael Taylor and Steve Souza Jr., just in time for both men to be added to the 40-man roster. Brian Goodwin held his own at AA, a year after skipping High-A, which gave the Nats enough depth to part with Burns and still have four OFs in the upper minors aged 24 or younger. It may be the only part of the farm where there is true depth, which if any beat writers are reading, includes catcher.

Hagerstown
On the field, the Suns made the playoffs for the second straight season by the thinnest margin possible — a 1/2 game, thanks to three cancellations. While they shorted the West Virginia Power by taking two of three in the semifinals, they were swept away in the Finals. Off the field, the franchise continued to suffer attendance losses as folks seem to be fed up with the constant threat of leaving while also campaigning for a new facility. Given that MiLB has yet to issue a waiver to allow a team to play in temporary facility, Fredericksburg may miss the boat, allowing for a third city to make a move.

Potomac Bats Go Dead In The Finals
Perhaps that’s not giving either the Hillcats or the Red Sox pitchers enough credit, but it left a sour taste in the mouths of fans (*ahem*) who watched the team obliterate the Carolina League during the regular season. Indeed, they would set franchise records for wins and attendance while winning both halves handily. They had the league’s best pitching and second-best offense, which was built upon on speed but not overly reliant on the longball, walks, or avoiding strikeouts.

Harrisburg Makes The Eastern League Finals
After making a similar run in the summer of 2011, the 2013 Senators made it past the first hurdle with a 3-1 semifinals win against the Seawolves but like the P-Nats and Suns, ran into a buzzsaw in the finals. Developmentally, the team was a resounding winner — sending Rendon, Jordan, and Krol up to D.C. to stay while further polishing Karns, Aaron Barrett, Goodwin, and Souza.

Promotions
After conservative promotions in 2010 and 2011, 2013 continued the 2012 trend of more aggressive promotions, particularly the pitchers between High-A and AA as 4/5ths of the P-Nats April rotation were given the bump. No doubt some of this was by design with the activation of two pitchers (Sammy Solis and Matt Purke) who were coming off surgery. But it’s enough to no longer summarily dismiss the idea of someone moving up sooner rather than later.

Trades
Jokes about A’s aside, GM Mike Rizzo has no qualms about trading to get the players he wants (Fister, Blevins) or recoup value on players he doesn’t intend to keep (Morse, DeJesus). As alluded earlier, A.J. Cole has been involved in both types of trades, which serves as a reminder that the notion of any player being the next X in Washington is far from certain. Even though this has been true for quite some time, I get the sense that many folks still aren’t used to it.

Dec 302012
 

12 from '12Thanks to our handy-dandy multiplication table, you can see that the finish of Year Three equals 36 months of NationalsProspects.com. It’s time for the annual look at the year that was, a staple of news during the end of the year no matter what the medium.

Last year in this piece, I remarked about how the system was in a state of transition, away from the outsized hopes of “The Coming Thing” and towards the more practical promise of steady player development, where the bets are hedged and the risks spread more evenly. Don’t get me wrong… there’s still some big names — Anthony Rendon, Brian Goodwin, Lucas Giolito — but the expectations are lower* than they were for Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.
*Before you disagree, ask yourself if you’re depending on any of those guys to be playing in D.C. before next September.

Nope, things have changed when it comes to the pressure for the “baby Nats” to become “Big Nats.” Winning nearly a hundred games instead of losing more than a hundred will do that.

Speaking for myself, I’m more interested in the journey than the destination. I’d be lying if I claimed that I paid as close attention to the big boys as I do the kids… especially when all seven affiliates are in action. But it makes writing pieces like this easier to do, too.

With that, let’s delve into twelve (hey, that rhymes!) stories from the 2012 season in the Nationals minors.

Bryce Harper Comes to D.C.
There was never a question of whether — only when — Harper would get the call. The Lt. Dans (nee The Lerners Are Cheap) were sure that the Nats would wait until June to avoid “Super Two,” but were once again proven to have no legs to stand on when the promotion came in late April instead of late May or early June. Still late enough to ensure team control through 2018, mind you. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure if this was the plan all along or if injuries were indeed the reason for the early summons.

Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore, too
In keeping with the theme of transition, it would seem that 2011 — when Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos made the club out of spring training as starters — was an exception. In 2012, the drama was whether or not a rookie could make the club as a bench player. Lombardozzi did just that, “proving” the narrative that versatility and fundamentals can be more valuable than the sum of the rest of his game. Unlike Harper, injuries were most definitely a factor in helping Moore make it after all. Of course, it helps to have a knack for getting the big hit off bench, too.

Sandy Leon Injured in MLB Debut
The Nats’ ballyhooed catching depth was put to the test in 2012. Not one but two injuries paved the way for Sandy Leon, who got hurt in the fourth inning of his major-league debut — two days after Wilson Ramos went down for the season and about three weeks after Jhonatan Solano went out with what turned out to be a neck injury. Thankfully, the chain of injuries stopped with Carlos Maldonado. The Nats would dip into that depth again in August, trading David Freitas to the Oakland A’s to get Kurt Suzuki.

Four Nats Nailed for Drug Violations
Perhaps it’s some small comfort that these were merely “drugs of abuse” instead of steroids, but the Nats have yet to go a year without a minor-leaguer being suspended. Zech Zinicola was suspended in January, Josh Wilkie in June, along with Josh Johnson and Rafael Martin, who were merely “disciplined.” The suspension ultimately “earned” Wilkie his release while Zinicola, who had spent 2011 in Syracuse, spent an abbreviated 2012 in Harrisburg.

Gambling On Injuries, Part One
The Nats were — and as we saw last week, still — praised heavily for spending big and gambling on talented players with health questions in the 2011 draft. Unfortunately, neither Matt Purke nor Anthony Rendon were able to have the kind of season that would silence the doubters. Rendon would go down in April with an incomplete (read: not partial; there is no such thing) fracture in his left ankle, which he hadn’t hurt previously. Purke was held in XST until late May and made just three starts, only one at home (during the day) before disappearing. Rendon would eventually come back and play for both Potomac and Harrisburg and in the AFL, but Purke would be shrouded in mystery until October, when it was revealed he had indeed had shoulder surgery as feared and/or rumored.

Gambling On Injuries, Part Two
Despite the new CBA, teams still spent heavily on first-round picks. Picking 16th, the Nats spent $2.125M on HS pitcher Lucas Giolito despite what turned out to be the case some two months later: The 18-year-old would undergo elbow surgery and miss the rest of 2012 and most of 2013. Two anomalies: (1) Unlike Purke, the Nats did not wait months until admitting the obvious (2) Nats fans expressed dismay more than disappointment, which again is fodder for my argument that things have changes when it comes to the Nats fans and the farm.

The Fast and The Furious: Promotions
The new world order is a level per year, with some exceptions. Bryce Harper was one. Brian Goodwin turned out to be another. Both outfielders were jumped from from Low-A to AA, which prompted accusations of punishment for Potomac in 2011 due its field issues. With a brand-new field, the stagnation of Michael Taylor was the more plausible explanation in 2012. Meanwhile, Matt Skole was beating on Sally League pitchers like John Henry with a nine-pound hammer but was left behind until mid-August while several teammates moved up, which of course, made fans, followers, and commenters, well, furious.

Nathan Karns
For the first 18 months of this site’s operation, Karns was akin to something that went bump in the night: heard in the comments, but otherwise unseen. When he finally emerged in June 2011, he would blow away the GCL with 26K’s and two hits allowed in 18⅔ innings. He fell back to earth in Auburn (3.44 ERA, 6.63 BB/9), but made the 2012 Watchlist. After working out of the bullpen in April, the big, ol’ Texan finished the month of May with three straight quality starts and was bumped up to Potomac in June. After a couple of shaky starts against Frederick and Salem, Karns got into a groove — striking out 32 over a three-start stretch and eight QS in his last 11 appearances. He would lead the farm in ERA, WHIP, SO, and OBA.

Christian Garcia
Had he not been a former Yankees 3rd-round pick, Garcia’s signing in late July 2011 would not have warranted much more than a line item in a transactions post. Within three weeks, however, he made the GBI and had the category existed, would have probably made the 2012 watchlist as a “Notable Pitcher.” Fifteen months later, the 27-y.o. was pitching in the postseason and there’s talk (though unrepeated besides beat reporters, Nats bloggers, and the Washington front office) of Garcia joining the Nats rotation. While that still seems unlikely, the observation that the Nats were trying to catch lightning in a bottle seems apt (pat, pat ;-)

Multiple Affiliates Make Playoff Runs
While there’s only been one league championship during our tenure, we’ve been fortunate to have pennant chases from multiple affiliates in all three seasons. Some will snort that this is a natural byproduct of the lean towards collegiate players — and that’s fair criticism — but it’s fun nevertheless. The Auburn Doubledays held off a furious charge from the Batavia Muckdogs (winners of 19 of 21 in in late Aug./early Sept.), while the Potomac Nationals couldn’t replicate the run they made in 2011 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009, thanks in no small part to an abysmal 22-47 mark on the road. The Hagerstown Suns fell 3½ games short in the first half despite a 42-27 record, but did nearly as well (40-28) in the second half and took the Sally North by three games. Both the Suns and Doubledays were bounced in the first round, with Hagerstown getting swept and Auburn falling hard (16-7) in the deciding Game Three.

Rizzo Finally Gets His Span
One of the more troubling aspects of following prospects is getting used to the idea that they may get traded. Now that the Nats are contenders, that means prospects tend to be going in exchange for major-leaguers instead of vice-versa. It happened again last month as top pitching prospect RHP Alex Meyer was traded for long-coveted OF Denard Span. For as long as the Nats have been in Washington (and even years before that), center field has been a soft spot in the lineup, enough that the Nationals were willing to put a 19-year-old rookie there. With that problem ostensibly “solved,” one or more the current crop of centerfielders (yes, even Goodwin) could be next if the right deal comes along to improve the parent club. (See “surplus of catchers,” 2010-2011)

Rosenbaum, Kobernus “Lost” To The Rule 5 Draft
The final reminder in the motif “we’re contenders, get used to this” was the removal of four farmhands earlier this month. In the “dark time” of 2008-2009, following 100+ loss seasons, there was (now, in retrospect) an almost-perverse delight in picking first in the Rule 5 draft, despite rule changes that have diluted it. Fast-forward three years and now it’s the wondering of who will leave, not who will arrive. It’s quotes on the subhead verb because the two players taken in the major-league phase — Danny Rosenbaum (Colorado) and Jeff Kobernus (Boston, flipped to Detroit) — have to stay on the 25-man rosters throughout 2013 and, historically, a significant percentage of draftees are returned.

Nov 052012
 

Going into the Eastern League All-Star Game, Harrisburg was 48-40 — good for second place in its division, having had an eight-game win streak broken with a 4-1 loss on July 9th.

It would be nearly a month before the Senators won back-to-back games again.

They went 16-38 in the second half, falling from second place to fifth place by the end of July for their worst finish (64-78) since the ghastly 2007 edition that went 55-86.

Injuries, as you might expect, were a factor. Twenty-nine-year-old Tim Pahuta led the team in games played with 121. Starters Destin Hood, Chris Rahl, and Jeff Kobernus — none of whom were promoted — played in 94, 92, and 82 games respectively. But as Geoff Morrow pointed out in his final of four segments on the team, the inability to hit when it mattered most is what truly killed the Senators in 2012:

The Senators’ .202 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position wasn’t just dead last in the 12-team EL, it easily ranked last among all 30 Class AA teams (including the Southern and Texas League teams). Their .239 average with runners in scoring position was last in the EL and 28th overall.

Perhaps that might be enough said, but let’s do the dance anyway, starting with how Harrisburg’s team totals compared to the rest of the Eastern League:
HITTING

PITCHING

Not too hard to figure out what the problem was. The pitching wasn’t great, a notch below the league average. But the hitting was atrocious — 11th in runs, RBIs, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Take away the power from graybeards Pahuta and Jimmy Van Ostrand and the legs of Eury Perez and Kobernus, along with Rahl who provided both, and this team would have probably finished 11th or 12th in HRs and SBs, too (somehow, they finished dead-last in doubles).

Perhaps more disturbing is looking at the pitchers by age. As a group, the 24 and unders were 28-32 with two saves, but with a 4.92 ERA and 1.492 WHIP over 488⅓ innings. Contrast that to the 26+ group, and you get marks of 20-29 and 12, 4.13 and 1.335 over 468⅓ innings. The league average age was 24.5, so when you add in the 25-year-olds, those numbers improve to 44-49, 27 and 4.22 and 1.399 over 775 innings.

The problem is that those 25-year-olds were 16-17, 25 and 3.01 and 1.238 over 286⅔ innings. That’s pretty good, but look at who those pitchers are: Erik Davis, Ryan Perry, Hector Nelo, Trevor Holder and Brian Broderick. In other words, guys that for the most part either were or should have been in AAA. Maybe it’s just an anomaly, but it’s something I noticed that I thought was worth passing along.

Now, a look at the Top 14’s — my semi-arbitrary cutoff in order to capture the most notable — for the position players and pitchers. Full statistics for the team can be found here.
Were it not for the injuries, we might have seen a slight improvement in terms of more plate appearances going to age-appropriate players. Jeff Kobernus, for example, might have gotten the bump to Syracause that went to Zach Walters instead — he was hanging a .306/.355/.341 line in July after struggling for much of May and June. Destin Hood probably would have played the whole year for the Senators, but can we write off both the declines in power and patience to his being hurt?

As it was a year ago, the lack of walks is really striking. Without the likes of Derek Norris, Bill Rhinehart, and Josh Johnson, it’s especially noticeable. It’s a testament to Brian Goodwin that he led the above group with a 9.7% walk rate and an indictment on the several players that didn’t break 7.0%. With another wave of free swingers coming from Potomac (Matt Skole and Anthony Rendon excluded), it’s something to watch for in 2013 and beyond.
The story of 2012 for the Harrisburg pitchers was Danny Rosenbaum. His overall numbers aren’t so bad, but that’s a function of arithmetic. After eight starts, he was 5-0 with a 0.62 ERA with six walks, one home run allowed and two complete games, only one of which required more than 100 pitches (109). Halfway through the season (13 starts), he had fallen to 7-2, 1.94 with 13 walks and three HR allowed over 88 innings. After that, the wheels fell off the bus — 1-8 with a 6.54 ERA and a 1.693 WHIP in his final 13 starts.

How much of that is the league adjusting to Rosenbaum and him not adjusting back is up for debate. Pitching coach Paul Menhart offered a clue in this dispatch from Geoff Morrow’s Sunday column in early July, noting that a lot stemmed from frustration, which in turn led to pressing, which even the casual observer knows leads to grooved pitches. Morrow would continually note via Twitter during Rosenbaum’s starts about how much more hittable he’d become as the season progressed.

As noted above, other age-appropriate pitchers struggled. Paul Demny, who had made 98 starts between April 2009 and July 2012, was moved to the bullpen in August. Robert Gilliam was dropped down to Potomac after failing as both a starter and a reliever. Marcos Frias saw his usage cut in half while his ERA rose nearly two runs before and after the All-Star break — though some of the innings drop may be attributable to Ryan Tatusko, Pat McCoy and Davis, all repeating the level, excelling in middle relief and leaving Frias the odd man out.

OBLIGATORY TOP EIGHT LIST
As much as I hate combining lists, with just two pitchers to list, there’s not much else to be done.

On to the caveats… Hood still has time on his side (turns 23 in April), Kobernus doesn’t (turns 25 in June); but both are getting the benefit of the doubt due to injury… Rosenbaum is still left-handed, mechanically sound, and durable (76 starts, 6.19 IP per from ’10-’12)… There are reports that Demny has a lost a some m.p.h. off his fastball (high 80s vs. low-to-mid 90s) in the AFL, but those are likely to come back with a shift to the bullpen… Bloxom plays a position in which the organization is not deep and can switch-hit… Ryan Perry has already made 156 appearances as a major-leaguer (by definition, a prospect must also be a rookie)… and, of course, Brian Goodwin has already been picked (#1 position player for Hagerstown).

1. Eury Perez
2. Sandy Leon
3. Zach Walters
4. Destin Hood
5. Danny Rosenbuam
6. Paul Demny
7. Jeff Kobernus
8. Justin Bloxom

Dec 272011
 


We’re at the end of Year Two of NationalsProspects.com; time for the obligatory “Year In Review” piece.

Oh, I know that sounds curt and cynical. News slows down during the holidays, but it doesn’t stop. So these kinds of pieces are trotted out to fill the void.

Looking over the storylines that I decided to revisit, there does seems to be a theme of transition. The minors are still a source of hope, but it’s a different kind of hope. As the depth of the system has improved, the eggs aren’t all in one basket anymore.

Sure, we used to think that in the abstract with certain players — Chris Marrero especially and in particular — but as we saw last week, it’s become apparent that tagging a prospect as the next X in Washington is no longer a given.

(Before you say “Bryce Harper,” consider that he might end up in left field rather than right field.
What?! I’m just sayin’…)

Of course, that won’t stop anyone from trying. People will still get attached to certain players, hoping they make The Show in DC, but now the farm has improved to the point where it can produce players for both the long-term (replacements) and the short-term (trade bait).

This, I think, is progress — much the way we’re seeing a whole lot less of the Natmosphere praising players for their production (e.g. Tyler Clippard) rather than their personality (e.g. Chad Cordero).

So without further ado, let’s delve into the 11 stories to remember from 2011…

The Rain
Every year I ask for a drought that lasts roughly five-and-a-half months: second week of April to third week of September*. It would be one thing if I were merely referring to the poor drainage at the Pfitz, but this also includes the flooding at Metro Bank Park, and fallen light tower at Hagerstown. The four full-season affiliates averaged nearly a dozen rainouts apiece, the three short-season teams averaged nearly a half-dozen postponements each.
*Maybe I got too spoiled by my time in the Pacific Northwest, where there are two seasons — Rain (Oct-Apr) and Not Rain (May-Sep)

The Gorzelanny Trade
Eleven months later, and with the benefit of hindsight, this trade doesn’t look nearly so bad. Prior to this, however, most of the Rizzo trades were of the MLB for prospects instead of vice-versa. I liked the trade immediately, in part because it affirmed what I had long suspected: Michael Burgess was never going to figure it out (2011 saw him revert to the mean, posting a .225/.323/.427 line in his third A+ season).

The Jonny Gomes Trade
This one, however, still stings. Unlike the Gorzelanny trade, even Stevie Wonder could see this was a short-sighted trade designed to snag a sandwich pick. Thankfully, the new CBA will make this debacle less likely to recur. Maybe we’ll be proven wrong on this eventually, but watching a hard-throwing, left-handed strikeout machine (Chris Manno) move up a level and into a hitter’s league and still mow ‘em down was not fun, especially when the system is sorely lacking age-appropriate left-handed relief prospects.

The Gio Gonzalez Trade
Unlike the previous two trades, this trade got the attention of more than just the seamheads. The initial reaction was mostly sour, but I think a lot of that is simply that the trade involved four names that casual fans would know (imagine if it had been Demny/Rosenbaum/Freitas/Estevez) because all were in the most recent Top 10. I think Mark Zuckerman’s effort today expands/riffs on what I wrote in the comments to my story on the trade: “You can count me among the folks that feel a little disheartened that the farm has been weakened, but at the same time the parent club has been strengthened. Sometimes we need a little reminding that that’s *always* the endgame.”

Bryce Harper
There’s not much left that hasn’t been written about Harper. I think I’ve been fairly consistent in my ambivalence because I am professionally trained to be cynical and will instinctually gravitate towards the contrarian position to the hyperbole that has surrounded him since he was put on the cover of SI as a 16-year-old. But it’s also true that he’s met those expectations and impressed nearly every prospect guru along the way (yes, even Keith Law). Maybe the Nats will shock us and put Harper on the Opening Day roster, much like the Braves did with Jason Heyward in 2010. Maybe they’ll decide he needs to work on his fielding at Syracuse. But he will undoubtedly dominate Spring Training 2012’s headlines

Stephen Strasburg
We knew he was just visiting the minors in 2010. But in 2011, the road back from Tommy John surgery gave the 2009 #1 overall draft pick a six-game tour through the full-season minors. Three of those came in Hagerstown. And on a hot August night Brother Strasburg’s Travelling Salvation Show came to Woodbridge. Ordinarily, rehab starts are wildly overrated. But this was the exception, as the 23-year-old took just 33 pitches to retire 12 batters. No batted ball left the infield in fair territory.

Steve Lombardozzi
For the second time in two seasons, a middle infielder made his way from AA to the majors, as Steve Lombardozzi went from Harrisburg to Syracuse to Washington. While the odds of him making the 2012 lineup are slimmer than his predecessor, Danny Espinosa, it was still fun to watch and track from afar one season removed from seeing him day-in and day-out. As we head in 2012, the question is whether or not Lombardozzi is asked to man the bench or be sent to Syracuse to wait.

Danny Rosenbaum
Sammy Solis gets the press, but Rosenbaum simply produces: 171⅓ innings over 26 games, 25 of them starts. That’s nearly six and two-thirds innings every time out. The 24-year-old has been constantly compared to Tom Milone**, which is a double-edged sword like any comparison because it frequently assumes too much. Rosenbaum doesn’t have pinpoint control. But he can break a pane of glass, throwing in the low-90s. That jump in speed from 2010 (high-80s) to 2011 seemed come at the cost of his control and seemed like most of his time at 2011 was spent regaining it. But you’d never have known it if you simply followed the box scores. He has that rare knack of being able to get guys out without having all his pitches working. Now what remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be the 2012 version of Brad Peacock**.
**I purposely decided not to include Milone and Peacock in the “11” because I wanted this piece to still be as forward-looking as possible.

Destin Hood
Earlier, I’d referenced Michael Burgess, a “toolsy outfielder” that sputtered. Destin Hood may be that rare bird that doesn’t. Going into 2011, there was a low level of frustration: When he is ever going to tap that raw talent and turn it into skill? Well, this was the year. He nearly doubled his walk total (33 to 58), nearly tripled his HR total (5 to 13), and despite some knee troubles, swipe some bases (5 to 21). He’ll turn 22 just before the 2012 season, so the expectation that he can make another quantum leap will be there, fair or not.

Auburn Goes To The NYPL Finals
A year after watching the short-season A Vermont Lake Monsters start strong, then fade late had to lead some to wonder if history would repeat in ’11. It didn’t, as they managed to mash their way into the finals, leading the league in runs scored, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. It’s probably true that a lot of this is attributable to the Nats’ tendency to draft college seniors, but it made for a fun pennant race to cover in August as part of the daily “News & Notes.”

Potomac Rallies To Make The Playoffs
After a 29-40 first half — the worst in recent memory — the idea of a second straight second-half surge seemed far-fetched. But that’s exactly what happened. Unlike 2010, there was no Tyler Moore having a monster half-season, or Hagerstown sending up its top two pitchers. It was the more traditional, stabilize the pitching (veteran reliever into the rotation) and improve the offense just a little, enough to stop losing 5-4 and start winning 4-3. Sure, it ended with a playoff exit instead of a Mills Cup hoisting, but it was quite an unexpected turn of events.