Nov 072015

Fallball2014Well, perhaps it was too much to expect a bevy of Nats to appear in the AFL for a third straight game, so yesterday there were none in Salt River’s 5-4 loss to Scottsdale.


Minor-league free agency has begun, and while BA has yet to release its compilation, here’s what I’ve culled from

  • RHPs – Bruce Billings, Juan Gutierrez, Tim Alderson, Paul Demny
  • LHP –Richard Bleier
  • IF –Cutter Dykstra
  • OFs –Tony Gwynn Jr., Theo Bowe
  • C –Dan Butler

Now for the annual reminder that this is not necessarily a reflection of the value the organization places on the players, but the reality that players are effectively indentured servants for seven seasons after they’re drafted. For some, this is their only chance to go elsewhere without the stigma of having been released.

On to the final affiliate review…

After fielding a contender in 2014, it was a reversion to the mean in 2015 – a team stocked with veterans that could be easily passed through waivers or lost if need be. The Chiefs had the second-oldest collection of bats, the third-oldest set of arms. Neither were particularly good, with the offense averaging 3.69 R/G and the defense yielding 4.06 R/G against league averages of 3.97 R/G.

Like last year (and the year before, and the year before that…), the true prospects are few; basically, Trea Turner and A.J. Cole. As in previous reviews, it’s worth noting that perhaps the obligatory list would be longer if there weren’t players who lost their rookie status (Felipe Rivero, Joe Ross) or hadn’t been previously been listed (Matt Skole). Instead, it’s just four and were it not for the dexterity of the final two, I’d skip the list entirely:

1. Trea Turner, SS — .267GPA, 14SB in 48G
2. A.J. Cole, RHP — 3.15/3.90/1.18, .470OPS against in August
3. Matt Grace, LHP — 2.40/3.14/1.21, .543OP against LHBs
4. Sammy Solis, LHP — 2.03/2.86/0.98 in 13⅓ IP

If you have a morbid curiosity you’re interested in seeing the full team statistics, you can find them here.

Nov 012015
Abel-De-Los-Santos-2015-2 Nick-Lee-AFL-10-31-15

Just two Nationals relievers appeared in Salt River’s 6-5 win over Surprise — Abel De Los Santos and Nick Lee.

The clean outing continues to elude De Los Santos as he gave up a run on a triple and a sacrifice fly during his lone inning of work in the 7th. In four appearances, he’s been strafed for nine runs on 10 hits over four innings.

Lee was dinged for a leadoff HR in the 8th but then retired the next three batters on a flyout and two grounders.

After three straight wins, Salt River is tied with Scottsdale at 9-6 in the AFL East. It’s a five-game slate before next Saturday’s “Fall Stars” game (rosters to be announced tomorrow), which will be held in Salt River.

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Just a couple of items to tack on to the AFL dispatch…

Not sure if this is the 2015 postseason or the 2016 preseason edition or just Baseball America trying to make its October online pageviews, but the latest BA Top 10 for the Nationals is out. Without stealing the thunder of Byron Kerr, I’ll reveal that Trea Turner is the No. 2 prospect.

The 2015 edition couldn’t help but be better than the 2014 disaster, though that’s a lot like having better hair than Mike Rizzo. (Thanks, I’m here all week). Due in large part to the injury shuffle from the big club, the rotation was in flux all season long, with only Austin Voth making more than 15 starts. The pitching was a shade better than league average (4.06 R/G vs. 4.08) and the offense was a little worse than that (4.00), hence the eight-games-below .500 mark of 67-75 that missed its pythaogeran projection of 70-72.

As has been the case since 2012, it’s a combined Top 5 for the ancillary purpose of generating the 2016 Watchlist:

1. Austin Voth, RHP — 2.92/3.07/1.11, 148K in 157⅓ IP
2. Wilmer Difo, IF — .279/.312/.387, 26SB, 79K in 87G
3. Abel De Los Santos, RHP — 3.43/3.39/1.13, 4.59 K:BB ratio
4. Matt Skole, 1B — .232/.332/.398, 12HR in 90G
5. Isaac Ballou, OF — .304/.383/.494 in 49G

Obviously, I’m excluding Joe Ross because he’s lost his rookie status and Lucas Gioltio because he’s already appeared on a Top 5 list. Skole and Ballou are included mainly because the organization is starved for power and outfielders at the upper levels. Even then, I’m not sure (De Los Santos getting lit like a Christmas tree isn’t terribly convincing, SSS or not). This next watch list may be the smallest yet.

As always, folks who’d like to see the full stats can find them here.

Oct 242015
Yes, I know Santos pitched Thursday, but folks like Lee's pics!

Yes, I know Santos pitched Thursday, but folks like Lee’s pics!

Four strong innings from John Simms and a pair of two-run rallies early helped the Rafters eclipse the Solar Sox, 5-1 and stop a three-game slide.

Simms allowed the lone Mesa run on a solo shot in the 3rd and three hits total. He walked one and struck out four and threw 57 pitches during the outing, his second for Salt River.

Christopher Bostick returned the lineup and played second base. He batted ninth and reached base twice with a single in the 6th and drew a walk in the 8th to go 1-for-3 overall. Defenisvely he had a putout and four assists.

Salt River wraps up the week with a day game today at home vs. Mesa.

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It’s a two-fer today, so let’s jump into the usual weekly post…

The following players have appeared in Mexican Pacific League and the Dominican Winter League:

Rafael Bautista, Bruce Billings (Escogido, DWL)
Pedro Severino (Cibao, DWL)
Richard Bleier (Oriente, DWL)
Paul Demny (Culiacan, LMP)

Like the Hagerstown Suns, Potomac went from contender to pretender to post a losing season for the first time since 2012. It’s tempting to compare this team to that team, but there are two key differences: (1) this team did no better on the road than it did at home (2) this team didn’t feel like it had underachieved. Obviously, #1 is objective — to paraphrase the grossly overrated Bill Parcells, your record is your record. And #2 is subjective — part of underachieving is a disconnect between expectation and actual performance, perceived or actual.

Lucas Giolito and Wilmer Difo were “as advertised”; Reynaldo Lopez was not. Drew Ward was a mixed bag. Rafael Bautista was hurt. This can be argued (and probably will be in the comments), but most of the other names either weren’t as highly regarded outside our bubble or there were reservations already about their prospect status.

The 2015 crew felt to me very much like the first couple of seasons I watched this team (2006, 2007): A couple of true prospects and a handful of maybes mixed in with “OGs” (organizational guys). This may be “old world order” returning, and with the parent club now drafting in the lower third, it might not be all that surprising.

And with that, I present the obligatory Top 5’s:

1. Christopher Bostick, 2B, .253 GPA, .344 OBP 1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, 2.71/1.96/1.22, 11.11 K/9IP
2. Spencer Kieboom, C, .241 GPA, .346 SLG% 2. Tyler Mapes, RHP, 2.38/2.78/1.22, 8.54 K/9, 4.18 K:BB
3. Drew Ward, 3B, .237 GPA, 29E in 95G 3. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP, 4.09/2.95/1.22, 5HR in 99 IP
4. Estarlin Martinez, OF, .238 GPA, .711 OPS in 2nd half 4. Austen Williams, RHP, 2.59/3.22/1.09, .215 OBA
5. Rafael Bautista, CF, .224 GPA, 23SB in 52G 5. Phillips Valdez, RHP, 3.77/3.26/1.44, 58.1 LOB%

No honorable mentions as we’re now well past the point of ignoring a player’s age or having repeated the level. Folks interested in seeing the entire team’s stats, can find them here.

Oct 172015

With yesterday’s game between Salt River and Peoria rained out, we turn to the weekly post to fill the time…

Again, still quiet on this front — just the election by Emmanuel Burris for free agency, a move that will only shock the MASN Commenters of the Natmosphere.

Trea Turner, who was the #4 guy in the Texas League after 58 games, was also #4 in the International League despite having played just 48 games there. Turner is obviously an unusual case and will be expected to take over the starting SS duties from Ian Desmond in 2016. As we saw this year, the Nats aren’t afraid to go with rookies who have graduated AA. It should prove to be interesting, however, should Turner struggle in the spring while incumbent infielders do well.

The four-year run of winning baseball and three-year streak of making the playoffs ended with a sub-.500 campaign of 68-70 — 35-33 in the first half, 33-37 in the second. The Suns’ status as the worst draw in the Sally League continued, though the claimed attendance improved nearly 10% [insert joke about extra Thirsty Thursday here] from 979 to 1,073 per date. The next-worst team averaged 1,962. SSDY.

The offense was slightly better than the league average (4.49 R/G vs. 4.39) but the pitching was worse: 4.70 vs. 4.39. The team was fourth in defense on the basis of fewest errors and fielding percentage, while the catchers were tops in the league at CS% at 38% – 3% better than the second-best team. Like many of the teams reviewed thus far, the contingent from the D.R. helped to offset the older players, but as a team they were older than the league average for both bats (22.5 vs. 21.5) and arms (22.4 v. 22.0).

Now, for the comment, Top 5’s:

1. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz, 1B, .285 GPA, 11HR, 87RBI 1. Austen Williams, RHP, 2.10/2.81/1.10, 4.5 K:BB ratio
2. Bryan Mejia, 2B, .305 GPA, .924OPS 2. Andrew Lee, RHP, 2.15/2.19/0.92, 10.43K/9IP
3. Osvlado Abreu, SS/2B, .264 GPA, 30SB, 30E 3. Koda Glover, RHP, 2.25/2.19/0.92, 10.13K/9IP
4. Andrew Stevenson, CF, .239 GPA, 16K in 35G 4. Philip Valdez, RHP, 1.47/4.08/0.93, .189 OBA
5. Alec Keller, RF/CF, .255 GPA, .995FA overall 5. Connor Bach, LHP, 3.85/4.08/1.49, 5.65 BB/9IP

Honorable mention to Andrew Stevenson, who put up a .242GPA in 35 games as a 21-year-old in his first pro season. For the pitchers, there just wasn’t one who had both good production and was closer to 22 than 26. For those who’d like to see the full team stats, click here.

Oct 102015

It’s been an interesting week to say the least. And as much as I’d like to say there’s been a lot of news, if you look more closely, there’s a hell of a lot more smoke than fire. The entire Nats coaching staff — many of whom have been mainstays in the organization before the current GM assumed his role — was “informed their contracts would not be renewed” while the Nats have reportedly “offered several jobs to several of our former major league coaches in our system.”

I’d like to know which coaches were offered which jobs. Not that for a minute would I actually believe that Rizzo or the Nationals would answer that directly or honestly, but it would nice if somebody, somewhere would ask such an obvious (and necessary) question. Maybe it was asked, but I doubt it.


Perhaps biggest “news” is that Trea Turner won’t be playing on the taxi squad after all. This never made much sense and sounds like a (yet another) tone-deaf PR maneuver. Meanwhile, Christopher Bostick replaces Wilmer Difo, who was injured last weekend. Games start up on Tuesday the 13th.

Three Nats made the Carolina League Top 20: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Austen Williams. Not much argument about Giolito, but the previous accolades and perhaps a weak year seems to account for the picks of Lopez and Williams respectively. Giolito as the top dog in the Eastern League also reeks of laziness, as does the naming of Joe Ross — who is no longer an MLB rookie — at No. 8.

Let me be clear: I’m criticizing Baseball America here. Yes, we get that Giolito is a great talent, but double-dipping means that another guy elsewhere doesn’t get named. And a pitcher that made 13 starts for a second-place team might be a major-leaguer someday?
Even F.P. Santangelo could make that call.

Still fairly slow, as P.J. Walters was re-signed. That’s it.

A look over the rosters of the Venezuelan Winter League, which started up on the 7th, has turned up two pitchers and two position players who were with the organization at the end of the 2015 season:

  • Reegie Corona
  • Mario Lisson
  • Paolo Espino
  • Mario Sanchez

So far, no Nationals have been listed on the Mexican Pacific League teams, which began last night.

In 2011 and 2012, the Doubldays were contenders to win the NYPL league. In 2013, they bottomed out with the league’s worst record and worst pitching. The past two seasons, it’s been a slow climb to the .500 mark. It’s worth noting that the first two teams were among the league’s oldest while the last three have been edging towards the average, falling below this year (20.6 vs. 21.1 for bats; 21.1 vs. 21.3 for arms) with the influx of more players from the D.R.

Just two of the seven Washington affiliates surpassed the league average runs scored per game. Not coincidentally, both clubs — Auburn and Hagerstown — were the closest to a winning record. Funny how that works. The Doubledays scored 4.82 R/G (vs. 4.25), which was good for second-best in the league. The pitching and defense let in 4.88 R/G which was third-worst in both categories. Thus, the 36-38 mark is only one off from the Pythagorean projection (for the folks who still mindlessly lament the “collapse” of the 2005 parent club, look at the second paragraph under “Justification”) of 37-37.

Before I unveil the Top 5’s, a note: I’m not listing Victor Robles twice, even though he was head and shoulders above the rest (.311 GPA). If that doesn’t make sense, re-read “BA Top Prospects” above 😉

1. Max Schrock, 2B/SS, .272 GPA, .308 BA 1. Erick Fedde, RHP, 2.57/2.60/1.31, 9.26 K/9IP
2. Dalton Dulin, 2B, .273 GPA, .410 OBP 2. Mariano Rivera III, RHP, 5.45/2.70/1.64, 0.82BB/9
3. Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B, .265 GPA, 21 doubles in 62G 3. Tommy Peterson, RHP, 2.66/2.83/1.23, 1.8 BB/9
4. Edwin Lora, SS, .238 GPA, .414 SLG% 4. Taylor Guilbeau, LHP, 3.88/2.89/1.39, 1.6 BB/9
5. David Kerian, 1B, .236 GPA, .995 FA 5. Grant Borne, LHP, 3.59/2.99/1.26, 1.3 BB/9

Honorable mentions to Rhett Wiseman and Matt Crownover; the former was just a tick below Kerian, the latter because he finished very strong — 2.22 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in August. And it pained me to have to include Mariano Rivera III because I am really not a fan of legacy picks (*cough* Shane McCatty *cough*) but like Crownover, getting pounded early skewed his stats.

This is why I like FIP and include it as a “pitcher’s triple slash” because it’s less volatile. Indeed, you’ll see that a lot of the pitchers listed had one thing in common: they didn’t issue walks. We can complain that they didn’t strike out many, either, but that’s a conversation for the comments section.

As always, folks who want to see the numbers for the full team can find them here.

Oct 032015

Rained-Out-2014There’s still more than a week to go before the Arizona Fall League starts up, while the hot mess that is the 2015 Washington Nationals limps to a finish.

As much as I’d like to keep the focus on the minor-leaguers, times like these I understand why people want to discuss the parent club. It’s certainly better than in the days of the Nationals Farm Authority, where there was a sizable contingent of folks who only came to whine and campaign for replacements for the product in D.C. and bitch about the perceived lack of spending [Insert remark about Papelbon salary with rhetorical question here].

For what it’s worth, I too, worry that the proverbial window is closing and that Rizzo might not be able to trade his way out of “cleanse the palate” season (or three). But that’s as much as I think I should write about that; I’d like to shift back to why we’re here: to follow the paths of the future Nationals (and/or trade bait ;-)…

Speaking of trade bait, shortly after last week’s post went to virtual press, the Nationals announced the 2015 Organizational Awards with Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz earning the Player of the Year, Austin Voth was tabbed as the Pitcher of the Year, and Austen Williams earned the third annual Bob Boone Award. For the folks not on the inside joke, take a look at that link and scroll down: Eight of the last 17 award winners have been traded.

As expected, no Nationals made the South Atlantic League Top 20 or were referenced in its “In A Box” feature. The home office in Durham, NC chose to do the Florida State League ahead of the Carolina League, so the adulation for Lucas Giolito will have to wait until next week.

As usual, it’s pretty quiet on this front: one pitcher re-signing (Justin Amlung) another getting cut loose (Manny Rodriguez). With the free agency period starting in roughly five weeks, we may see one or two more guys re-up rather than test the waters.

For the fifth time in the last six seasons, the G-Nats finished fourth with a 24-34 record. Like most of the affiliates, they had league-average pitching (4.00 R/G vs. 3.99) and were below-average offensively (3.59 R/G). Defensively, they were a shade better (.966FA vs. .964). This is where I also remind you to not get too excited or too depressed: short-season baseball = small sample size, not to mention the bevy of pitchers recuperating from Nationals elbow.

Without further ado…

1. Victor Robles, CF, .358 GPA, 12SB in 23G 1. Matt DeRosier, RHP, 1.29/2.21/0.90, 9.4 K/9
2. Telmito Agustin, LF, .278 GPA, .446 SLG% 2. Joan Baez, RHP, 2.13/2.67/1.18, 6.6 H/9IP
3. Anderson Franco, 3B, .259 GPA, 4HR in 43G 3. Rocky Harmening, RHP, 2.86/3.26/1.14, 4:1 K:BB ratio
4. Darryl Florentino, OF, .267 GPA, .329 BA 4. Brayan Serrata, RHP, 1.80/3.26/1.35, converted from C
5. Oliver Ortiz, 1B-OF, .226 GPA, .982 FA at 1B 5. Maximo Valerio, RHP, 1.72/3.36/0.98, 88.8 LOB%

There were three players that were statistically better than 19-y.o. Ortiz, who was repeating the level, but all three were significantly older (~22 y.o.) Thus, no honorable mentions. Three of the top five pitchers were also on a subsequent tour, but unlike the 2014 staff, they were at or below league-average in terms of FIP. Folks who are interested in seeing the entire team’s stats, should click here.

Sep 252015

Now I can follow last year’s digital size 13’s, so here goes…


All seven affiliates had losing records and missed the playoffs. Obviously, that’s not the only measuring stick or even the most important one. But I’ve long felt that the reflexive, “stats are meaningless in the minors” trope by baseball folks to be disingenuous. I’m sure many of you had this reaction at least three times a week when looking at the daily rundown. Like a taxi on a rainy night, offense (age-appropriate or not) was hard to find. A lot of you are pinning your hopes on the influx of talent from the D.R. and I have little reason to disagree.

Victor Robles was named the #2 prospect in both the GCL and the NYPL (remember Baseball America loves to double-dip) and was joined by Erick Fedde (#4). That, of course, means there’s a small chance that Fedde will make the cut for the Sally Lg., too. Aside from Lucas Giolito, I have little confidence we’ll see many more.

The logical inference from the previous two items is that the watchlist has become a depth chart. This has always been my worst fear, and it makes me less interested in creating a 2016 edition. This is not necessarily a result of a disappointing season; a year ago I wrote that I knew the list will become smaller and less comprehensive, but I was hoping not to scrap it altogether. Perhaps I’ll feel differently in a few weeks, or someone can make a case in the comments for a way to preserve this.

After years of being one of — if not the — oldest teams in the DSL, the 2015 edition had the youngest set of position players in the league (average age: 17.6 vs. 18.3) and the fourth-youngest pitching staff (18.3 vs. 19.0). But being young is only a part of the equation; were they any good? In the 38-team DSL, the bats were 29th (4.46 R/G vs. 5.02) and the arms were 33rd (5.74). The defense was also below average with a .947FA (.952).

So, no, not really.

The million-peso question is how many of these guys will repeat, with the follow-up of how many will be let go. We won’t know until next May. But the hope is that those that do repeat — and are still age-appropriate — will improve dramatically.

Without further ado…

1. Aldrem Corredor, 1B/OF, .289 GPA, 39 BB 1. Pedro Avila, RHSP, 2.26/1.87/1.06, 13.1 K/9
2. Luis Perdomo, LF, .275 GPA, 16 2B 2. Francys Peguero, RHRP, 1.82/1.99/0.84, 13.5 K/9
3. Edwin Ventura, RF, .265 GPA, 15SB 3. Yonathan Ramirez, LHSP, 2.75/2.91/1.12, 1.7 BB/9
4. Roberto Medina, C, .278 GPA, .442SLG% (34G) 3. Gilbert Chu, RHRP, 2.55/2.90/1.09, 11.0 K/9
5. Juan Evangelista, CF, .258 GPA, 108 TB 5. Warner Duran, RHRP, 2.67/2.35/1.22, 0HR in 33⅔ IP


Honorable mentions go to 17-y.o. Omar Meregildo, who led the team in slugging at .443 (but also faded badly, .450 OPS in August vs. .643 in July and .885 in June) and 18-y.o. RHRP Angel Guillen, who had a very respectable 3.02 FIP and an extremely unlucky .423 BABIP, which can be obscured by his ERA (6.08) and H/9IP (10.8). Folks interested in seeing the entire team’s stats can find them here.

Dec 282014

Top 10
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.

Steven Souza
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.

Michael Taylor
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.

Reynaldo Lopez
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.

Matthew Purke
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.

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.

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)

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.