Nov 082013
 

For the second straight summer, Syracuse admirably achieved its primary mission of providing the Washington Nationals with replacements for injured or underperforming players. They also fulfilled a secondary function of providing a place for the latter to either get back on track (Tyler Moore) or get reps to try to work through their injuries issues (Danny Espinosa).

From that point of view, the 2013 Chiefs were successful. Like it or not, that’s the role for AAA nowadays — a place to play for “inventory” to stay active and a “finishing school” of sorts for certain prospects (typically, but not exclusively position players). That the Nationals have fielded also-rans for three straight seasons is irrelevant in this philosophy.

With that “said,” we embark on the final 2013 season review with the usual comparison against the league, then a focus on the Top 10 who were 27-and-under (i.e. league-average age) and had significant playing time, which this year works out to 17 or more innings pitched for pitchers, 111 or more plate appearances.

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Syracuse 4824 600 1256 114 395 1094 .260 .320 .395 .243 123
Lg. Avg. 4792 609 1223 107 485 1087 .255 .328 .384 .244 111

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Syracuse 1251⅔ 4.10 4.56 1.391 104 444 999 9.3 3.2 7.2 2.25
Lg. Avg. 1261 3.86 4.23 1.355 107 485 1087 8.7 3.5 7.8 2.24


At first glance, it looks like this team should have done better than a last-place finish, albeit in a strong division. The Chiefs were better than the league in average, HRs, slugging on offense, walks issued, HRs surrendered. Sure, the ERA was a notch below, but… oh wait: 143 errors in 144 games (tied with Indianapolis)? The worst fielding percentage in the I.L. (.974)? The most unearned runs (86)? Never mind.

Obviously, poor defense aside, the two most glaring exceptions to the around-the-league-average theme are batting walks (tied for 12th fewest) and pitching strikeouts (tied for 11th fewest). Not taking walks is always going to help out the opposing pitchers. Likewise, not getting K’s increases the odds of contact, which was a double handicap because the team was not adept at converting batted balls into outs.

If there is something I’m glad to be wrong about, it’s that the Nationals haven’t gotten older at this level as I thought they might a year ago. Even with the likes of 32-y.o. Yunesky Maya (who pitched the second-most innings), the team’s pitchers were only slightly older than the league average (27.6 vs. 27.3) and the hitters were actually younger (26.6 vs. 26.9), thanks to a pair of 23-year-olds (Zach Walters, Eury Perez) playing nearly every day.

Which brings us to those age-appropriate bats… (Full statistics for the team can be found here.)
here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Zach Walters 23 521 SS/3B 104/27 .981 38 .258 .264
Chris Marrero 24 450 1B 97 .990 9 .249 .132
Corey Brown 27 438 CF/LF/RF 61/22/21 .973 6 .265 .208
Eury Perez 23 433 CF/LF/RF 69/15/9 .979 4 .257 .122
Jeff Kobernus 25 412 LF/2B/CF/3B/RF 50/15/12/11/8 .992 2 .262 .070
Danny Espinosa 26 313 2B/SS 41/35 .965 12 .198 .070
Carlos Rivero 25 239 3B/1B/SS/LF/RF 42/10/6/5/1 .950 12 .208 .048
Tyler Moore 26 200 LF/1B 21/19 .987 3 .324 .266
Jhonatan Solano 27 148 C 38 .997 1 .180 .065
Josh Johnson 27 111 3B/2B/LF/RF 16/9/8/1 .975 2 .323 .125


The good news is that seven of these ten are home-grown. The bad news is that just two of them aren’t repeating the level. Those two, of course, are Jeff Kobernus and Zach Walters, who will be competing in 2014 to achieve what Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi did in 2012: establish themselves as MLB bench/role players.

Unfortunately, that path seems blocked for Corey Brown (who’s now out of options) while Eury Perez has languished at AAA and has but one option left and would seem destined to follow in Brown’s footsteps. Time ran out for Chris Marrero, who was removed from the 40-man last month, and became a free agent earlier this week. Likewise for Carlos Rivero, who went from nearly making the club out of spring training to getting demoted to AA after his production dropped dramatically (.783 OPS in ’12 to .588)

On to the pitchers…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Danny Rosenbaum 25 28/28 7-11, 0 3.87 158⅓ 167 67 102 1.478 10 8 8
Tanner Roark 26 33/11 9-3, 2 3.15 105⅔ 85 20 84 0.994 6 3 2
Caleb Clay 25 14/13 5-2, 0 2.49 83 68 14 51 0.988 5 3 3
Erik Davis 25 45/0 3-7, 15 3.10 52⅓ 55 20 54 1.433 4 0 2
Ryan Perry 26 12/8 1-4, 0 7.93 42 54 23 27 1.833 9 1 3
Xavier Cedeno 26 39/0 2-0, 4 1.31 34⅓ 23 16 45 1.136 2 1 5
Tyler Robertson 25 26/1 2-7, 0 3.04 26⅔ 33 8 24 1.538 2 0 2
Cole Kimball 27 23/0 0-0, 1 8.06 25⅔ 31 14 25 1.753 4 0 6
Michael Broadway 26 18/0 1-1, 6 2.28 23⅔ 16 7 26 0.972 2 0 1
Fernando Abad 27 17/0 1-0, 0 1.06 17 17 2 12 1.118 0 0 0


Here is where you see how AAA has become the place to “house inventory” — even with an age-28 cutoff, a significant number of innings went to guys that were acquired, signed, or claimed since last November. And it’s not hard to see what the parent club was looking for in reserve: left-handed relievers.

Danny Rosenbaum, who was taken then returned by Colorado in the Rule 5 draft, was the only lefthanded starter all season long and one has to wonder: If he sticks around next year, is there any chance he’ll be converted to relief to increase his chances of pitching in DC? Or will he be given the Corey Brown treatment and continue to start, with neither the hamburger or the pay on Tuesday?

Methinks the latter will be the case and the example of Tanner Roark will be the justification, as he too was asked to eat innings in 2012 (147⅔ in 26 starts) started 2013 in the Chiefs ‘pen, then shifted back to starting and did both for the parent club, winning seven of his first eight decisions and logging 53⅔ innings for a team that was chasing a playoff spot.

As I did a year ago, I expect the Nationals to promote a handful of the Harrisburg pitchers and use FAs to plug the gaps at both AA and AAA until the prospects are ready. It’s WAY too early to say much more than that, esepcially in light of the trades that have been made over the past couple of offseasons.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
That four of these five are already on the 40-man makes this easy. Justifying the two pitchers is a little harder, given that they turned 26 and 27 last month. But this is what I have to pick from, and the guy not on the 40-man could very well be added to somebody’s 40-man next month (again). Plus, as the old saw goes, he is lefthanded and throws strikes, so…

1. Zach Walters
2. Jeff Kobernus
3. Eury Perez
4. Danny Rosenbaum
5. Erik Davis

Nov 012013
 

It was predicted to be the roster to watch for this season, and for the most part, it lived up to that. Top prospect Anthony Rendon began here, as did Nathan Karns, the Nats’ 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and the single-A guys from the 2012 AFL team that lost in the playoffs. Overall, there were 13 names from the 2013 Watchlist on the Opening Day roster, which is not unusual since AA is where the best prospects play the most nowadays.

But… roughly half the team was also the one that went belly-up in the second half of 2012, so if any Sens fans were worried that history would repeat itself, they couldn’t be blamed. Indeed, the team played .500 ball until nearly mid-June before edging into contention. Fortified by several pitchers from Potomac during the season, all of whom seemingly made the transition with hardly a hiccup, Harrisburg made its run in late June and survived an August swoon to edge Erie for the E.L. West title by one game.

After taking three of four from the Seawolves to advance to the Finals, Harrisburg would be swept by the Trenton Thunder, who, much like the Salem Red Sox in the Carolina League, also got hot down the stretch and swept both division leaders for the League Championship. A disappointing finish, but far from a failure as the team produced two pitchers and an infielder who finished their seasons in D.C. — and not as September call-ups.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Senators stacked up against the Eastern League…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Harrisburg 4585 602 1110 101 521 1090 .242 .324 .372 .239 89
Lg. Avg. 4689 628 1195 104 482 1068 .255 .330 .387 .245 107

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Harrisburg 1237 3.43 3.75 1.237 101 391 1168 8.3 2.8 8.5 2.99
Lg. Avg. 1230⅔ 4.01 4.44 1.363 104 482 1068 8.7 3.5 7.8 2.21


If there are two things that have been the trademark of Harrisburg teams over the fast few seasons, it’s been outstanding pitching and suboptimal hitting. This past season was no different — they gave up the fewest run and walks and were second in pitching strikeouts, producing the best ratios for K:BB and WHIP. At the plate, they were dead-last in batting average, second-from-last in slugging percentage, and third-from-last in OBP (thanks to finishing second in walks drawn) and runs scored.

Defensively, the team was middle-of-the-pack — a .976 FA that was right at the league average. They allowed the second-fewest stolen bases (with fewer opportunities to steal, thanks to the pitchers) with a slightly above-average (33% vs. 31%) rate of catching would-be basethieves, which would have been higher if Sandy Leon (38%) had caught more than 91 games (the backups were 25%).

Given the organization’s proclivity towards athleticism and defense in the draft (and obviously pitching), this trend will likely continue. As noted in 2011, the lack of power has been offset with increased speed and patience as three of the previous five affiliates were above their league averages for either steals or walks, if not both (Potomac and Hagerstown). This is not inherently bad as power is considered to be a skill that develops later (and can be acquired more cheaply), but I’m sure folks on City Island wouldn’t mind seeing more than one or two boppers in the lineup at the same time, either.

Now is when we danc…er, take a look at the Top 14’s for the hitters and pitchers — expanded from 12 to capture a couple of notables (and help pay the bills, *ahem*). Full statistics for the team can be found here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Justin Bloxom 25 544 1B/3B/LF 105/18/3 .981 17 .247 .104
Brian Goodwin 22 533 CF 116 .982 5 .262 .155
Ricky Hague 24 479 2B/SS 117/7 .970 16 .226 .117
Destin Hood 23 429 RF/LF 61/44 .979 4 .207 .103
Jerad Head 30 426 LF/1B/RF/CF 50/14/8/4 .981 4 .242 .153
Sandy Leon 24 361 C 93 .993 6 .194 .075
Sean Nicol 26 324 3B/SS/LF/2B/1B 42/17/17/13/2 .960 10 .237 .079
Steve Souza 24 323 RF/CF 72/5 .979 3 .317 .257
Jimmy Van Ostrand 28 283 LF/1B 23/6 .990 2 .259 .193
Jose Lozada 27 230 SS/3B/2B/LF/1B/RF/CF 29/17/10/5/4/3/2 .955 11 .188 .050
Carlos Rivero 25 199 3B 49 .961 5 .225 .129
Jason Martinson 24 196 SS 53 .944 12 .199 .121
Josh Johnson 27 196 SS/2B 42/3 .932 13 .271 .186
Anthony Rendon 23 152 3B/2B/SS 24/5/1 .958 4 .358 .284


Looking at the column for isolated power, you can see what I mean by the lack of big boppers. Just five of these 14 were above the league average of .132 and you can see from the distribution of the playing time that there rarely more than one or two in the lineup at the same time. Steve Souza, who’s ripping up the AFL in limited playing time as of this writing recently added to the Nationals 40-man roster, was a force… when he was healthy. It would have been nice to see what he could have done had he played 50 more games, especially coupled with Rendon for another month.

Perhaps more disappointing was the regression of Destin Hood and Sandy Leon. Hood played 18 more games than he did last season, and posted worse numbers in just about every category. Leon fell off a cliff offensively, falling so far, so fast that it makes you wonder if his 2012 season ought to be disregarded as a fluke. Both players had breakthrough seasons in 2011, but that’s a long time ago in the minors when you’re closer to 25 than 20.

It’ll be interesting to see who moves up to AAA among this group, because it may only be two or three guys, max. The Nationals have had no problem plugging in six-year FAs to plug holes or shuffle between Harrisburg and Syracuse (e.g. Johnson, Rivero, Head, Van Ostrand) which is likely to occur again with Potomac having only 2-3 position players destined to move up.

Now for some better news, the pitchers…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Nathan Karns 25 23/23 10-6, 0 3.26 132⅔ 109 48 155 1.183 14 7 13
Blake Treinen 25 21/20 6-7, 0 3.64 118⅔ 125 33 86 1.331 9 4 8
Rob Gilliam 25 19/18 3-6, 0 4.40 90 83 38 77 1.344 9 10 4
Paul Demny 23 18/15 5-6, 0 4.95 83⅔ 81 35 86 1.386 10 6 3
Caleb Clay 25 13/13 6-3, 0 3.46 75⅓ 64 17 59 1.075 6 7 3
Matt Swynenberg 24 36/4 4-0, 0 3.16 74 66 30 58 1.297 6 3 5
Taylor Hill 24 11/11 2-7, 0 2.71 69⅔ 67 16 41 1.191 7 1 1
Robbie Ray 21 11/11 5-2, 0 3.72 58 56 21 60 1.328 4 6 1
Taylor Jordan 24 9/8 7-0, 0 0.83 54 37 9 43 0.852 0 5 0
Neil Holland 24 41/0 1-4, 1 2.84 50⅔ 48 11 63 1.164 3 5 1
Aaron Barrett 25 51/0 1-1, 26 2.15 50⅓ 40 15 69 1.093 6 0 5
Tyler Herron 26 33/1 6-2, 5 3.11 46⅓ 45 21 58 1.424 2 1 2
A.J. Cole 21 7/7 4-2, 0 2.18 45⅓ 31 10 49 0.904 3 0 1
Pat McCoy 24 39/0 2-1, 0 4.32 41⅔ 48 12 36 1.440 5 3 2


Much like Hagerstown, the consistency of the league’s top pitching staff was amazing — just two of these starters were above the league average for ERA, two relievers above the circuit norm for WHIP. As aforementioned, it was almost unnatural how well the seven callups from Potomac did. Three of the four starters posted better numbers at AA than at High-A while the three relievers who didn’t do better were still decent if not very good.

None of these were guys could be described as unfairly held back, which would help explain such a phenomenon. In fact, the two youngest success stories — Robbie Ray and A.J. Cole — were coming off terrible 2012 seasons and weren’t exactly dominating the Carolina League when they were promoted (lots of K’s, but also lots of HRs). This, for better or worse, is why the folks who make the sausage will tell you that stats don’t matter as much we the fans might think they do.

Which brings us to Taylor Jordan and Ian Krol. I was fortunate enough to see Jordan in Woodbridge, but naturally missed Krol, who was acquired during the past offseason and seemed like a throw-in, which we’ve come to learn, is where Rizzo, et al seem to really do best at: identifying talent from other organizations and having them do far better than anyone expected.

OBLIGATORY TOP EIGHT LIST
Since I use these to help build the 2014 watchlist, I can’t name Jordan and Rendon — both have exceeded the IP and PA limits for rookie status (50, 130 respectively) that most folks use as a cutoff. I also had to break my rule about not double-dipping by repeating two names because, well, they’re kind of obvious. Likewise, for the second straight year, I’m going to have to combine the bats and arms to form a single list because there’s an uneven distribution (again).

1. A.J. Cole
2. Brian Goodwin
3. Robbie Ray
4. Nathan Karns
5. Steve Souza
6. Aaron Barrett
7. Neil Holland
8. Justin Bloxom

Oct 252013
 

By every typical measure but one, the 2013 edition of the Potomac Nationals was the best ever in Woodbridge. They won both halves, rather handily — the first by six games, the second by nine games. They allowed the fewest runs, scored the second-most runs, had second-best defense, stole the most bases, etc.

Unlike last season, they could win away from the Pfitz (in fact, they were the only team in the Carolina League with a winning road record), where they were dominant: a 47-23 mark (.671). While perhaps coincidental, the rain that had plagued the team in 2011 and 2012 stayed away: just three rainouts at home, which helped the P-Nats set a single-season attendance record of 236,772 (3,534 per date), surpassing the previous mark of 220,145 in 1998, according to their PR folks.

And yet they didn’t win the League Championship. Intellectually, we know this shouldn’t matter. The minors aren’t about winning, they’re about development (e.g. 4/5ths of next year’s DC rotation could be homegrown — three of them pitched here on their way up). But emotionally, it does matter: you want to see the guys move up the ladder, but also want to see them win.

So 2013 won’t have the same resonance as 2008 or 2010, but let’s take a look at how they did, starting with how they compared to the rest of the Carolina League…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Potomac 4580 680 1200 85 506 1017 .262 .343 .393 .253 217
Lg. Avg. 4631 635 1174 86 491 1026 .254 .332 .380 .244 138

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Potomac 1213⅔ 3.70 4.21 1.317 98 448 1057 8.5 3.3 7.8 2.36
Lg. Avg. 1216 3.98 4.54 1.369 86 491 1026 8.7 3.6 7.6 2.09


The P-Nats posted remarkably similar numbers to the Suns, but with (a LOT) more speed and more power. They only led the league in steals but were second in AVG, OBP, SLG, hits and run scored. They were only league average (or thereabouts) in walks, strikeouts, and HRs (a.k.a. the three true outcomes), which in theory should have made them less vulnerable to the offensive outage that ended the season on a sour note (i.e. they proved they could hit and score without an unusual reliance the longball, drawing walks, or avoiding the whiff).

The pitchers led the Carolina League in just about everything except strikeouts (4th) and (curiously) home runs (8th), though unlike the Suns, the usual gap between starters and relievers was evident. The lack of strikeouts may be a bit of surprise, given the presence of Robbie Ray and A.J. Cole, but as we’ll see later on that’s because the P-Nats had several high-contact, low-strikeout pitchers, too (maybe the HR thing isn’t so curious).

Let’s take a closer look at that lineup, beginning with the Top 12 batters in terms of PAs…

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Michael Taylor 22 581 CF/RF 117/4 .986 5 .260 .163
Caleb Ramsey* 24 528 RF/LF/1B/CF 55/44/13/5 .981 5 .248 .095
Kevin Keyes 24 482 1B 117 .987 11 .226 .145
Adrian Sanchez** 22 463 2B/SS/3B 94 .964 18 .200 .058
Adrian Nieto 23 452 C 86 .991 7 .280 .164
Cutter Dykstra 24 446 3B/2B/SS 62/33/8 .951 14 .283 .105
Billy Burns* 23 402 LF/CF 73/18 .994 1 .288 .079
Randolph Oduber 24 355 RF/LF/CF 59/6/4 .979 3 .219 .103
Jason Martinson 24 305 SS 55 .968 7 .289 .216
Justin Miller 24 302 3B/1B/RF/LF 35/30/12/2 .968 10 .249 .148
Francisco Soriano** 26 258 3B/SS/2B/LF/1B/CF 24/23/12/6/2/1 .969 7 .241 .111
Mike Gilmartin 25 232 CF 51 .957 5 .244 .094

(* = 2011 Draft Pick, ** = DSL Graduate)

Excluding the veterans, half of these guys were repeating the level. This is not unusual — it was four last season — but it’s the most in recent memory. Some of the repeats improved significantly (M. Taylor, Martinson) and some actually regressed (Keyes, Oduber). What remains to be seen is whether this is a trend or an anomaly. The case for the former: The Nats have been signing six-year FAs to plug holes in AA and AAA, which seems to indicate an “up or out” mentality; either you’re good enough for AA after a couple of years at High-A or you get released. The case for the latter: common sense, skepticism, or mere conjecture.

What was a pleasure to watch was seeing how this group functioned as a unit on offense. Burns set the table and wreaked havoc, Martinson supplied the requisite power and RBIs. When they were promoted, Dykstra and Taylor seemed to both assume the roles respectively. Even the guys that finished with below-average nos. had their moments (nice way of saying “streak,” no?)

Defensively, this was the best outfield yours truly saw over the last eight seasons — especially the trio/alignment of Burns-Taylor-Oduber. Adrian Sanchez didn’t improve on offense, but did improve on defense — increasing his range and showing an improved arm. Kevin Keyes won’t be mistaken for Andres Galarraga at 1B, but his conversion from the OF was a success.

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed by innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Blake Schwartz^ 23 23/23 11-4, 0 2.65 132⅔ 117 26 80 1.078 8 7 4
A.J. Cole 21 18/18 6-3, 0 4.25 97⅓ 96 23 102 1.223 12 4 6
Taylor Hill* 24 15/14 6-2, 0 2.99 84⅓ 73 11 54 0.996 6 4 4
Robbie Ray 21 16/16 4-3, 1 3.11 84 60 41 100 1.202 9 4 7
Greg Holt 24 42/0 9-0, 1 3.71 70⅓ 67 33 55 1.422 8 5 7
Brian Rauh^ 21 16/12 4-2, 0 4.22 64 69 18 35 1.359 3 0 7
Colin Bates 25 36/0 5-4, 1 2.61 62 58 8 48 1.065 4 6 5
Brian Dupra 24 29/3 1-7, 0 4.96 61⅔ 64 28 44 1.492 7 1 7
Matt Purke* 23 12/13 5-3, 0 4.42 61 67 18 41 1.393 3 4 9
Sammy Solis 24 13/12 2-1, 0 3.43 57⅔ 58 19 40 1.335 3 0 3
Richie Mirowski* 24 32/0 8-3, 6 1.50 48 32 11 59 0.896 6 0 5
David Fischer^ 23 21/0 4-0, 2 4.30 44 29 44 53 1.659 2 5 8

(^ = 2012 Draft Pick, * = 2011 Draft Pick)

It’s not a perfect parallel, but the 2013 starting rotation was very reminiscent of the 2008 edition, which saw just one pitcher make 20+ starts (Ross Detwiler) and a series of guys get promoted to Harrisburg (Jordan Zimmermann, Adrian Alaniz, Craig Stammen, and Jhonny Nunez). Though he didn’t begin in Potomac, Blake Schwartz was the Ross Detwiler and we can only hope that three of the four promoted — Taylor Jordan, Taylor Hill, A.J. Cole, Robbie Ray — also make it to The Show (one down, two to go).

As aforementoned, there were two noticeable weaknesses with the pitching — shaky bullpen and low K rates. Overall, the team converted just 42 of 68 save opportunities (61.7%) though the overall bullpen numbers weren’t bad: 39-24, 3.47 ERA. Just four of the the top 12 pitchers had better than league-average strikeout numbers (Cole, Mirowski, Ray, Fischer). While it certainly helped that few of the low-K guys had high-BB rates, it’s a warning flag because high-contact pitchers need something else besides good control to compensate: luck, great defense, or the tendency to generate plenty o’ groundballs.

For those wondering, Taylor Jordan missed the cut, having pitched 36⅓ innings in six starts before his promotion while Robert Benincasa threw just 30 innings in his 25 appearances (all in the second half).

OBLIGATORY TOP 4 LISTS
It’s time to start getting tougher, especially as we head towards what’s considered the true pinnacle of the minors: Double-A.

Batters
1. Michael Taylor
2. Billy Burns
3. Adrian Nieto
4. Cutter Dykstra
HM: Jason Martinson

Pitchers
1. A.J. Cole
2. Robbie Ray
3. Matt Purke
4. Blake Schwartz
HM: Sammy Solis

Oct 182013
 

Thankfully, the focus of these season reviews is on the players, as a team, on the field. Because otherwise the Hagerstown Suns have become — in today’s parlance — a hot mess.

Between the prolonged stadium debate and the threats to move the team to Winchester and Fredericksburg, it’s hard not to interpret that the people of Hagerstown are expressing their dismay by staying away. Attendance fell to a reported 1,058* per opening in 2013, a 23 percent drop from 2012 and less than half of what was being claimed as recently as 2009, which was 2,138 per date. * Figures per Ballparkdigest.com

Now that the elephant in the room has been addressed, let’s get down to business…

With the help of some rainouts, Hagerstown won the first half by a ½ game with a 38-29 mark and nearly won the second with a 42-28 run in the second, losing out to West Virginia by 2½ games. Overall, the Suns went 80-57, third best in the league behind the Power (82-58) and the GreenJackets (82-55).

Buoyed with the top two pitchers from Auburn, Hagerstown took two of three from West Virginia in the semifinals and won the opener of the Sally League Finals before losing the next three straight to the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Taking a look at how the Suns compared to the rest of the Sally League, there’s one rather noticeable outlier, which fans of the GBI have probably already guessed…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Hagerstown 4468 692 1152 56 530 988 .258 .341 .366 .245 153
Lg. Avg. 4511 593 1118 78 439 1098 .248 .322 .364 .236 140

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Hagerstown 1175 3.44 3.84 1.244 84 419 1098 8.0 3.2 8.4 2.62
Lg. Avg. 1187⅓ 3.77 4.31 1.311 78 439 1098 8.5 3.3 8.3 2.50



Hagerstown led the Sally League in offense despite hitting just 56 home runs (12th-best in the league) and having close-to-league-average power. The secret? No, not Calgon. Getting on base (#1 in OBP, #2 in walks drawn) and not striking out (#3). The math-inclined folks have already deduced that the lack of HRs was made up by more doubles and triples, at which the Suns were third-best in the league in both categories. Another quirk was finishing second in sacrifice flies, though that could very well be a factor of volume, not efficiency.

Thanks to injuries and promotions, there was a lot of flux with the Suns, such that just one pitcher (Pedro Encarnacion) exceeded 100 innings pitched. Nine pitchers made six or more starts, 15 different pitchers made at least one start (excluding rehabs). Seven of those guys were better than league average in ERA.

Really not much to complain about at the macro level, which is why like to drill down further, beginning with the Top 12 batters…

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Tony Renda* 22 606 2B 119 .973 15 .272 .111
Stephen Perez* 22 486 SS 125 .969 17 .218 .100
Brandon Miller* 23 442 RF/LF 101/2 .989 2 .253 .213
Shawn Pleffner 23 428 1B 94 .986 12 .273 .111
Estrarlin Martinez** 21 410 LF/1B/RF 48/34/6 .983 6 .234 .099
Will Piwnica-Worms 23 372 CF/LF/RF 54/20/20 .994 1 .261 .093
Khayyan Norfork 24 360 3B/2B/SS/LF/RF 49/17/1/1/1 .961 8 .239 .090
Mike McQuillan 23 314 3B/LF 52/2 .885 16 .259 .090
Wander Ramos** 23 303 LF/RF/CF 27/16/4 .945 4 .264 .166
Wes Schill 23 302 LF/3B/CF/SS 44/21/17/8 .932 11 .220 .064
Pedro Severino** 19 302 C 82 .980 14 .207 .092
Narciso Mesa** 21 232 CF 51 .957 5 .254 .063

(* = 2012 Draft Pick, ** = DSL Graduate)
What stands out the most to me is how “set” the positions were for this crew — basically, the top four guys in terms of PA were day-in, day-out at their position. Five of the Top 12 only played one position all year long — that kind of consistency is unusual, especially in light of the organization’s favor towards athleticism and versatility. Not to mention, part of the point of the minors is finding out where guys best fit in terms of their skills… or what the parent club needs.

As was the case a year ago, this was an older group of guys — second oldest in the Sally, actually — so the lack of power is cause for concern. Just two of these 12 had isolated averages that exceeded the league average of .116. Defensively, the team finished third in terms of fielding percentage, which is an admittedly flawed measuring stick, but until the likes of baseball-reference and fangraphs make advanced defensive stats less cumbersome (e.g. if I want to see how good a player’s range factor is vs. his peers, I have to go to each and every team page and extract that data), it’s the best we’ve got for an exercise such as this.

Speaking of defense, one name that’s been mentioned to me as one to watch is Pedro Severino, despite the 14 errors and 16 passed balls. “The best arm the Suns have had in years,” as my Hagerstown guy put in his recent review of the Hagerstown hitters. The Nationals aren’t as deep at catcher as people think they are (and haven’t been for nearly two years); Severino was one of just two (2) catchers younger than the league average in the entire system (Raudy Read was the other).

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed by innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
Pedro Encarnacion** 22 25/24 10-9, 0 3.58 128⅓ 116 37 113 1.192 10 8 16
Brett Mooneyham* 23 17/17 10-3, 0 1.94 93 50 41 79 0.978 5 4 8
Nick Lee 22 19/17 6-4, 0 3.96 91 83 43 102 1.385 7 5 11
Ronald Pena* 21 28/10 4-3, 1 3.48 88 89 34 55 1.398 4 1 7
Kylin Turnbull 23 16/16 6-5, 0 3.58 83 97 16 67 1.361 10 1 3
Dixon Anderson 23 15/15 5-5, 0 3.20 78⅔ 62 30 72 1.169 3 0 7
Ivan Pineyro** 21 13/13 5-3, 0 3.14 66 57 17 65 1.121 4 3 10
Ian Dickson 22 16/10 5-3, 2 4.39 65⅔ 65 17 71 1.249 8 1 2
Travis Henke 24 30/0 3-1, 2 2.72 59⅔ 49 17 41 1.106 3 4 3
Bryan Harper 23 34/0 5-1, 1 3.97 45⅓ 32 32 43 1.412 2 8 5
Cody Davis 22 35/0 2-3, 1 2.76 42⅔ 40 14 46 1.276 1 0 6
Brian Rauh 21 14/0 3-2, 2 5.21 38 37 15 31 1.714 3 2 5


As you might imagine with a team that finished 4th in a 14-team league in pitching, the quality of pitching was amazingly consistent. The two starters that were above the league average had an ERA around 4.00 (Lee, 3.91; Dickson, 4.01). Only one reliever with a 1.5+ WHIP threw more than 20 innings (Will Hudgins), likewise only one pitcher with more than 20IP had a 5+ ERA (Rauh)… and he was promoted to Potomac, where he started 12 games and went 4-1 with 4.01 ERA.

As aforementioned, injuries influenced the large number of starters: Dixon Anderson saw his season shortened (again) by shoulder woes while Brett Mooneyham missed seven weeks with the Belichek-esque “arm discomfort,” which led to Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson shifting from the ‘pen. Promotions, of course, were also a factor with Matt Purke, Brian Rauh, and Ivan Pineyro “movin’ on up.”

The question, of course, is which of these guys will be the next Taylor Hill or Blake Schwartz — to name two pitchers that really exceeded expectations and who will hit the wall and have to return, which happened this season to Derek Self, Christian Meza, and Kylin Turnbull. For the opinions of my “Hagerstown guy,” I’ll refer you to his take on the 2013 Suns pitchers.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
Once again there was a temptation to reduce the list from five to four when I took a step back and consider what other folks (i.e. non-Nats fans) may think of these guys. Especially with the position players, I keep coming back to: “His numbers were good, but not great, and he was old for the level.” Keep that in mind before you make your case in the comments for the guy that I didn’t list below.

1. Tony Renda
2. Brandon Miller
3. Wander Ramos
4. Estarlin Martinez
5. Pedro Severino

1. Pedro Encarnacion
2. Nick Lee
3. Brett Mooneyham
4. Cody Davis
5. Ian Dickson

Oct 112013
 

After two successive division-winning teams in 2011 and 2012, the 2013 edition of the Auburn Doubledays hit rock bottom in 2013 with a league-worst 26-49 mark. Of course, to expect that kind of success year in and year out is foolish. But it’s also difficult as a fan to not be disappointed with a last-place finish.

Almost implicit in reviewing a cellar dweller is the hope (mission) of finding something (anything) positive amid the negative (and there was a lot). The trick is do it without looking specious, which seems to be okay in public relations.

Thanks to a small but noticeable shift towards drafting collegiate juniors and junior college players, along with some sizable movement to/from the GCL with pitchers, this edition wasn’t oldest in the league as they were a year ago (or second oldest, as they were in 2011). We can only hope that this trend (the drafting part) continues because, well, I’ve been advocating it in the past two season reviews.

Continuing with the format, gird yourself for the look at how Auburn compared to the rest of the N.Y. Penn League…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
Auburn 2447 258 563 28 209 518 .230 .302 .315 .215 40
Lg. Avg. 2469 291 597 31 221 570 .242 .313 .338 .225 69

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
Auburn 637⅔ 4.23 4.77 1.452 25 256 575 9.5 3.6 8.1 2.25
Lg. Avg. 654⅔ 3.19 3.90 1.249 31 221 570 8.2 3.0 7.8 2.58



The 2013 Auburn pitchers were (slightly) better than their 2012 counterparts. But as you might have already guessed, they were the NYPL trailers in virtually every statistical category but two rather important ones: HRs allowed and strikeouts. They were also a study in extremes — one SP had an ERA near 1.00, another more than 9.00. As a staff, they were bad, but there were some really standout individual performances, which will be discussed below.

The 2013 Auburn batters weren’t the worst in the league, but finished above 10th in just two categories — striking out (4th fewest) and getting hit by pitches (4th most). Kind of brings new meaning to contact hitter, no? Unfortunately, once you factor out the 23-y.o. players, it gets very difficult to find very much positive about this group.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Top 12 hitters in terms of usage. Full statistics for the team can be found here.
(# = 2012 Draft Pick or NDFA ** = DSL Graduate)

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
James Yezzo 21 263 1B 60 .993 4 .206 .071
Isaac Ballou 23 253 CF/LF 44/11 .982 2 .282 .104
Cody Gunter 19 245 3B 59 .885 20 .205 .081
Wilman Rodriguez** 22 171 SS/2B 19/9/9 .945 10 .208 .044
Jean Carlos Valdez** 20 191 3B/1B 15/9 .978 3 .224 .123
Bryan Lippincott# 23 187 LF/RF/1B 18/11/8 .978 2 .277 .181
Cody Dent 21 180 2B/SS/3B 29/21/2 .962 8 .195 .019
David Masters 20 170 SS/2B 19/18/1 .947 11 .175 .059
Matt Foat# 23 169 2B/LF/1B 21/4/1 .956 5 .195 .080
Greg Zebrack# 22 147 CF/RF/LF 28/6/4 1.000 0 .225 .056
Brenton Allen 21 140 LF/RF 33/1 .940 3 .219 .085
Wilmer Difo** 21 136 SS/2B 18/13 .961 5 .214 .116



As aforementioned, just two of these 12 were above the league average for GPA — and both guys (Isaac Ballou, Bryan Lippincott) were 23, which is old for the NYPL no matter how you slice it, dice it, or spice it. It gets a little better when you’re looking for raw power: the Dominican duo of Wilmer Difo and Diomedes Eusebio both showed above-average isolated power, which is not really that big of a surprise as one or both have been “watchlisters” since the beginning.

Defensively, the team was league-average, but a lot of that was dragged down by the team’s left-side infielders, who committed 41 of the team’s 88 errors. First baseman James Yezzo posted a below-average range factor but made just four errors, which is good because as previously reported, he’s a 1B-only project. Missing the cut in terms of usage (89PA), Matt Reistetter gets a mention here as he put up strong numbers defensively (.988FA, 8-for-16, CS-SB) and respectable offensive numbers (.254/.337/.354) — not bad for a NDFA that didn’t start playing until July 24.

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed in terms of innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HR HBP WP
R.C. Orlan# 22 13/11 1-5, 0 3.65 56⅔ 54 22 47 1.341 2 4 2
L.J. Hollins# 21 23/0 1-4, 6 2.84 44⅓ 45 14 35 1.331 0 4 3
Jake Johansen 22 10/10 1-1, 0 1.06 42⅓ 22 18 44 0.945 1 1 5
Casey Selsor# 23 14/7 0-6, 0 4.29 42 56 14 30 1.667 1 1 2
Joel Barrientos** 19 11/8 1-5, 0 7.08 40⅔ 54 27 24 1.992 6 6 0
Ryan Ullmann 21 8/6 2-2, 0 5.30 37⅓ 52 10 23 1.241 4 2 0
Silvio Medina** 23 19/0 1-3, 0 4.08 35⅓ 33 25 48 1.642 2 5 8
Austin Voth 21 7/7 2-0, 0 1.47 30⅔ 21 4 42 0.815 0 1 2
Jake Joyce 21 20/0 1-3, 2 5.04 30⅓ 37 12 27 1.615 0 3 3
Mike Mudron# 23 19/0 1-3, 0 6.82 30⅓ 43 15 32 1.912 0 2 9
Deion Williams 20 8/8 0-6, 0 9.42 28⅔ 40 17 23 1.988 1 5 2
John Simms 21 11/2 0-3, 1 5.79 28 41 7 31 1.714 0 6 2



It’s not difficult to see the aforementioned standouts (I think Stevie Wonder could) when you look over this dozen. Jake Johansen and Austin Voth had ERAs that began with “1” and WHIPs that began with 0.” As the “top pick in the 2013 Draft,” Johansen gets the press, but Voth had superior peripherals — 12.3 K/9 vs. 9.4, 1.2 BB/9 vs. 3.8, 0.95 FIP vs. 2.77. This, of course, it not to diminish the big Texan but to shine a light on the underrated U-Dub product.

A healthy R.C. Orlan led the staff in innings pitched, followed by L.J. Hollins. While both were 2012 picks, it was the first year in Auburn for them as Orlan missed all of last season with TJ surgery and Hollins was leapfrogged from the GCL to Hagerstown in July 2012 and dropped down after making a single appearance for the Suns in late May 2013. While not outstanding in the traditonal sense, both were better than league average and helped offset some of the woeful pitching that’s also pretty easy to spot.

Finally, two notables that missed the cut: the sole Auburn All-Star David Napoli, who posted a line of 1.14/2.48/1.099 in 23⅔ innings, and 20-y.o. Nick Pivetta, who went 3.38/3.90/1.406 in 21⅓ innings.

OBLIGATORY TOP 5 LISTS

It was tempting to cut down to a Top 4 or combine arms and bats into a single list (all things I’ve done before and will probably do again), but I’ll stick with the format and note that inclusion here may not necessarily mean 2014 Watchlist status, sample sizes are small, your mileage may vary, etc.

Top 5 Batters
1. Isaac Ballou
2. Bryan Lippincott
3. Jean Carlos Valdez
4. Wilmer Difo
5. Greg Zebrack
HM: Matt Reistetter

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Austin Voth
2. Jake Johansen
3. R.C. Orlan
4. L.J. Hollins
5. John Simms*
HM: Nick Pivetta

* I made a choice like this in 2011 with Christian Meza based on a similar disconnect between ERA (5.79) and FIP (2.38) as well as strong perhiperals (2.25 BB/9, 9.96 K/9) and an unusually high BABIP of .438. Robert Benincasa had a similar mark last year (.409) which normalized this year to roughly .313.

Oct 042013
 

How good were the 2013 GCL Nationals?

It’s tempting to fall into the football mindset, where specious aphorisms such as “you are what your record says you are” come twelve for ten cents. This precise question was asked of Baseball America in a recent “Ask BA” column. After a breathless paragraph about Lucas Giolito, J.J. Cooper’s answer was:

Overall, the GCL Nationals impressed with a group of solid if not spectacular prospects having very good years. They had a deeper lineup and pitching staff than anyone else in the league. Many of these same players were on the Nationals’ Dominican Summer League club that went 38-32 in 2012, failing to make the playoffs. Seven of the nine regulars in the lineup came from that club, as did six of the club’s top nine pitchers. Given another chance to play together, they dominated the competition.

As I’ve written in the comments, the only thing we really do know is that the G-Nats were dramatically better than the other three teams in the GCL East. They probably would have still done very well in a more balanced schedule, but it’s hard to believe they would have won at the same clip. Ultimately, it’s a moot point. The schedule is primarily drawn up to minimize travel, not to determine who’s the best.

Cooper’s answer — aside from incorrectly implying that David Ramos was one of the the team’s best pitchers — correctly gets to what was brought up in the previous season review: It looks like the DSL Class of ’12 was pretty good, even if some of the guys were a little older. Given the organization’s poor record in developing talent from the DSL since 2006* (thus far: Eury Perez, Atahualpa Severino, and Sandy Leon have seen MLB playing time), this is the key takeaway from the 2013 edition.
* That’s the earliest roster available on baseball-reference.com

In keeping with the format, let’s take a look at how they compared to the average GCL team:

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
G-Nats 1881 319 528 15 184 392 .281 .359 .374 .255 110
Lg. Avg. 1921 251 467 18 194 447 .243 .323 .338 .230 63

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
G-Nats 496 2.47 2.78 1.109 18 158 435 7.1 2.9 7.9 2.75
Lg. Avg. 508⅔ 3.55 4.20 1.299 18 194 447 8.3 3.4 7.9 2.30



If you’re looking for nits, the G-Nats didn’t lead the league in pitching strikeouts, fewest home runs allowed, fewest wild pitches thrown, doubles, triples & home runs hit, walks drawn, and total bases. They were first or second in the league in just about everything else. Ordinarily, this is where the highs and lows of the team in the aggregate are discussed, but it’s pointless in this case. There are only highs and mediums here.

Let’s drill down a little further, and take a look at the Top 12 batters in terms of plate appearances, listing their position(s) in terms of games played. Players with an asterisk played in the DSL in 2012 or 2013; Players with a double asterisk are GCL repeats from 2012; the player with a carat(^) is an IFA; The full statistics for the team can be found here.

Name Age PA Position(s) G @ Pos Fld% Err GPA ISO
Rafael Bautista* 20 254 CF/RF/LF 41/11/1 .990 1 .287 .066
Drew Ward 18 199 3B 35 .950 4 .278 .095
Bryan Mejia* 19 179 2B/3B/SS/1B 35/7/2/1 .961 8 .228 .119
Osvaldo Abreu* 19 171 SS/2B 19/9 .945 10 .261 .095
Jose Marmolejos-Diaz* 20 158 1B 37 .993 2 .276 .121
Raudy Read* 19 158 C 31 .996 1 .211 .075
Hayden Jennings** 20 154 RF/CF/LF 21/17/7 1.000 0 .227 .095
Willie Medina 22 130 SS/2B/3B 19/18/1 .965 6 .201 .009
Randy Encarnacion* 18 126 RF/LF 16/5 .947 2 .327 .174
Luis Guzman^ 17 126 LF 33 1.000 0 .191 .056
Garrett Gordon 20 119 LF/RF/CF 17/9/1 .979 1 .239 .060
Diomedes Eusebio** 20 113 1B/3B/2B 26/9/1 .990 1 .284 .120



What stood out to me among this group — aside from the DSL connection — was the amount of continuity here. Injuries, promotions, demotions, bad food at Panera Bread — these are things that usually cut into playing time. Instead, nearly 87 percent of it went to the to the top 12, instead of the usual 79 to 82 percent. None of the top 12 was promoted. The two significant repeats received less playing time in 2013 than in 2012.

Drew Ward also sticks out like a sore thumb. Under Rizzo, the Nats haven’t drafted many teenagers. When they do, they usually don’t get this much playing time period, never mind at one position. As if all of that weren’t compelling enough, Ward outhit all but a couple of his teammates, both of whom were either significantly older (Bautista) or more experienced as a pro (Encarnacion). If you haven’t read Ryan Kelley’s 2013 draft post, which I also have in the right sidebar, then check it out. Not too often you see a kid live up to the hype, especially with a fair amount of doubters, thanks to the level of competition he faced as a schoolboy.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but I’m sure folks are wondering right now: “So how many of these guys will be challenged with Hagerstown in 2014?” I’d like to think at least half of them. Three reasons for this: 1) The Nats have been more aggressive lately 2) The Auburn guys were, by and large, disappointing 3) It’s been a long time since there’s been group this young that won so readily.

But I also can’t help but think that with so much youth there is time to err on the side of caution (so maybe just three, no more than four). It’s a lovely dilemma to have, and it’s part of what helps pass the offseason: wondering who moves, stays, and goes from the 2013 finish to the 2014 opener.

On to the pitchers, the Top 12 listed by innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Hector Silvestre* 20 13/8 7-0, 0 1.82 49⅓ 33 8 40 0.831 2 1
Wander Suero* 21 13/3 8-1, 0 1.65 49 27 13 46 0.816 2 7
Jefry Rodriguez* 19 12/12 3-0, 0 2.45 47⅔ 40 20 43 1.259 6 7
Phillips Valdez* 21 14/3 3-0, 2 1.95 32⅓ 16 12 27 0.866 2 4
Kelvin Rodriguez* 19 13/1 5-0, 0 3.07 29⅓ 31 6 15 1.261 8 3
Travis Ott 18 10/7 3-0, 0 4.03 29 24 12 32 1.241 4 2
Matt Derosier 18 7/0 2-1, 2 2.67 27 24 5 20 1.074 0 1
Lucas Giolito+ 18 8/8 1-1, 0 2.78 22⅔ 19 10 25 1.279 5 2
David Ramos* 21 14/0 5-3, 1 6.95 22 23 10 16 1.500 2 3
Jake Walsh+ 22 16/0 0-0, 8 1.40 19⅓ 10 5 17 0.776 1 1
Joey Webb 22 12/0 2-0, 2 1.89 19 13 6 25 1.000 0 0
Elliot Waterman- 22 12/0 0-2, 0 1.53 17⅔ 17 9 9 1.472 2 2



In 2013, there was quite a bit of movement in both directions between the GCL and Auburn — nine guys sent up, four sent down. Most of the guys that were reassigned upwards went fairly quickly: two after just one appearance and seven after pitching less than 13 innings. The most notable, aside from that Giolito kid, were Nick Pivetta, Ryan Ullmann, and Austin Voth as that trio would form the majority of the Auburn rotation for the season, with Voth getting a second bump to Hagerstown.

Some of this, no doubt was by plan: the trip to Auburn delayed, for example, for coaching purposes. Or there were some guys that the organization misjudged. In either case, with the exception of Deion Williams — who, as a conversion project was clearly given every opportunity to fail learn — the decision was made quickly and the demoted pitched fairly well. But only one pitched enough to crack the top 12 in terms of innings pitched.

There were no repeats from last year’s GCL squad who received significant innings. Like the batters, there were a significant contingent from the DSL. If there is any cause for concern, it’s this: four of those top five pitchers spent mutiple seasons in the DSL, with the three 21-year-olds all turning 22 before the end of this year. As with the batters, this may be nitpicking, but that’s part of the point of why I do a season review: to take a closer look and point out these things, which is important whether the team is the windshield (this year) or the bug (most other years).

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
Thankfully, it’s plural for a second straight year.

Top 5 Batters
1. Drew Ward
2. Rafael Bautista
3. Randy Encarnacion
4. Osvaldo Abreu
5. Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz
HM: Diomedes Eusebio, Bryan Mejia

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Lucas Giolito
2. Jefry Rodriguez
3. Hector Silvestre
4. Wander Suero
5. Kelvin Rodriguez
HM: Phillips Valdez, Travis Ott

Sep 272013
 

They’re a little younger and a little better than they were in 2012.

Looking back over the previous three season reviews, it’s a bit an obsession, this thing with the age of the D-Nats. That’s because in the wake of the events of the spring of 2009 — when it was revealed that Smiley was a bit long in the tooth — the Nationals had to fill out an already-old roster with players who probably would have gone unsigned (e.g. for seven of the thirty-six players, 2009 was their only pro season) or been released (for nine others, it was their last), creating the league’s oldest and nearly its worst.

Since then, the average age of the bats has gone from 19.4 in 2009 to 18.1 in 2013, a figure it’s been at since 2011. The arms have gone from 19.7 to 18.1, though the trajectory has been more erratic: 19.2 in 2010, 18.9 in 2011, 19.0 in 2012. The success of the GCL team in 2013 is significantly due to the talent that came from the DSL — five bats, six arms — and the natural hope and inference is that the international pipeline is starting to produce… despite the scandal… despite the past parsimony… despite the new CBA that has codified limited spending for contenders.

Following the format of the past three seasons, let’s take a look at how the team did vs. league averages…

HITTING AB R H HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG GPA* SB
D-Nats 2205 287 503 12 262 457 .228 .320 .300 .219 67
Lg. Avg. 2265 312 534 17 271 500 .236 .329 .318 .228 93

* GPA = Gross Production Average

PITCHING IP ERA R/G WHIP HR BB SO H/9IP BB/9IP K/9IP K/BB
D-Nats 602.2 2.85 3.86 1.185 24 195 514 7.8 2.9 7.7 2.64
Lg. Avg. 610 3.40 4.45 1.320 17 271 500 7.9 4.0 7.4 1.84



The 2013 edition, which finished a half-game better than the 2012 team (38-31 vs. 38-32), scored at a below-average clip (23rd out of 35 teams) but won more than they lost because the pitching was in the upper third of league (boy, they sure do start The Nationals Way early, don’t they?). Defensively, they were right about the league average of a .954 fielding percentage while the catchers were significantly better at throwing out runners (43% vs. 37%).

While short on power, the batters struck out at well below the league average (sixth-fewest) while the pitchers issued the third-fewest walks per nine innings. Both of those are good signs to look forward to for next year’s GCL squad as well as the guys that the organization decides needs to repeat the DSL, given that contact and control are skills that feed into attributes like power and “stuff.”

Using 100PA as the cutoff, here’s how the 2013 DSL Nationals broke down, with the primary player at each position listed under “G” and total games played “GP” (e.g. Brayan Serrata played 47 of 49 games at catcher). Fielding percentage is for the primary position played for the starters while the bench and utility guys players have their numbers combined. Folks interested in seeing the full team and its stats can click here.

Position Name Age G/GP Fld% Err PA GPA
C Brayan Serrata 19 47/49 .980 7 164 .213
1B Oliver Ortiz 17 23/26 .985 3 102 .277
2B Edwin Lora 17 43/55 .940 15 208 .199
3B Younaifred Aguero 20 48/57 .893 17 195 .218
SS Kelvin Gutierrez 18 42/60 .921 18 235 .234
LF Aldrem Corredor 17 37/57 .950 3 228 .243
CF Darryl Florentino 17 56/58 .964 4 222 .226
RF Israel Mota 17 50/52 .945 4 180 .238
UT (2B/SS/CF) Thomas Alvarez 18 28, 20, 11 .975 6 253 .209
UT (LF/RF/1B/CF) Dionicio Rosario 19 20, 20, 3, 1 .953 4 216 .220
Bench (1B/C) Yermin Mercedes 20 16, 3 .990 1 128 .249



I think it’s interesting that the two names that I mentioned at the end of this section last year were the two guys that were used a lot, but not enough to be considered the starter for any one position. In both cases, this appears to be a good problem: more guys that can play than positions available. Alvarez, for example, appears to be the better shortstop than Gutierrez, who appears to be the better hitter.

I’d love to know what’s the deal with Rosario, who made the 2012 watchlist by posting a .229 GPA as a 17-y.o. in the 2011 DSL, then didn’t play last season. Like all things DSL, it’s a guess unless the player is high-profile (in which case there might be a story). His 2013 performance wasn’t as good, but he got lots of playing time (216PA is 5th most) and judging by his finish (.297/.352/.422 in 18G in August vs. .136/.190/.220 in 18G in July and .217/.357/.304 in 21G in June) it would appear that he may have been shaking off rust.

If you’re not intrigued by what 17-y.o. (born May 1996) Oliver Ortiz achieved in a very short period of time (July 19-August 24), you’re probably on the wrong site. Obviously, the caveats of small sample size apply — it does for everybody in the short-season leagues — but the closest performance for someone his age is Randy Encarnacion last year (when he used Novas as his last name), and that was a .257 GPA over 60 games and he turned 18 during the season. Encarnacion hung a .349/.437/.523 line in the GCL this year, so you can following the bouncing ball from there.

The three 17-y.o. OFs (Corredor, Florentino, Mota) also should engender some excitement, with two producing offensively above league average and the third just a shade shy of it. The guess here and now is that no more than two of them will get sent stateside, for much the same reason why Rosario and Alvarez were used elsewhere: there’s only so much playing time to go around.

On to the pitchers, listing the top 12 in terms of innings pitched…

PLAYER AGE G/GS W-L, SV ERA IP H BB SO WHIP HBP WP
Deibi Yrizarri 18 14/13 5-3, 0 1.99 68 59 16 50 1.103 5 4
Maximo Valerio 17 14/13 3-4, 0 2.86 63 55 17 56 1.143 3 8
Mario Sanchez 18 18/5 2-3, 0 2.33 58 46 14 54 1.034 1 8
Jose Morales 18 16/8 4-3, 0 1.13 55⅔ 35 5 37 0.719 7 1
Luis Reyes 18 12/12 5-3, 0 2.82 54⅓ 38 20 65 1.067 11 10
Luis Torres 19 13/9 1-3, 0 3.91 53 54 17 51 1.340 3 7
John Feliz 19 20/0 4-2, 1 2.54 39 33 5 33 0.974 6 3
Yefri Pena 18 17/2 2-1, 2 3.62 37⅓ 37 15 29 1.393 3 5
Yorlin Reynoso 17 19/1 1-1, 0 2.70 36⅔ 27 13 31 1.091 2 7
Jean Ramirez 18 14/4 1-1, 0 3.71 34 32 16 27 1.412 3 3
Melvi Salazar 18 22/0 4-0, 13 0.98 27⅔ 21 10 21 1.120 2 1
Ramses Rosario 17 7/2 1-3, 0 3.54 20⅓ 22 6 15 1.377 2 1



Last year’s pitching was subpar, yet five pitchers moved up to the GCL and did well. And I thought only a couple would be bumped. Granted, three of them were no longer teenagers, but the point I’m trying to make is that when you go strictly by numbers, you’re gonna be wrong. Still, it’s encouraging to see almost all of these guys with more innings pitched than hits allowed and none of them will be 21 at the beginning of the 2014 season.

Two pitchers I feel relatively confident in projecting going to the GCL are Maximo Valerio and Luis Reyes. Valerio has spent two seasons in the DSL now and made improvements year-to-year. Reyes was called up to make an additional start after the DSL season ended and was invited to Instrux — either is generally a sign that the org will move him up the following year. Beyond that, you can make a case any of the other 10 pitchers; that’s how good the pitching was.

As mentioned in the 2013 Watchlist review (and elsewhere), the DSL is where I’ve made a lot of mistakes in picking players to watch — hence the new category — but that won’t stop me from making…

THE OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
All five of the batters I picked last year made it to the GCL this year. Two of the top five pitchers made it, too… and two were released. As written above, I don’t think I’ll be so lucky prescient with the batters, but I’m also hoping that my streak of picking guys that end up getting released ends, if for no other reason than these kids are too young to not repeat.

Top 5 Batters
1. Aldrem Corredor
2. Kelvin Gutierrez
3. Oliver Ortiz
4. Israel Mota
5. Darryl Florentino
Honorable Mentions: Dionicio Rosario, Thomas Alvarez

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Mario Sanchez
2. Deibi Yrizarri
3. Luis Reyes
4. Luis Torres
5. Maximo Valerio
Honorable Mentions: John Feliz, Jose Morales

Next up is the 2013 GCL Nationals, which I have a feeling is going to spark some debate as I’ll be incorporating some of the thoughts I’ve already made in the comments.

Nov 122012
 

The unexpected success of the 2012 Washington Nationals — those of you who really, really thought they’d win 98 games: How’s the weather today in Colorado? — was fueled in part by the ability of the 2012 Syracuse Chiefs to supply the parent club with replacements when the injury bug bit this year. Carlos Maldonado, Jhonatan Solano, Corey Brown, John Lannan all contributed in spots when needed, while Tyler Moore became a bench player and some teenager became a starter.

The past two Syracuse reviews have alluded to the new world order of AAA — a place for replacements more than a last stop for prospects. As the Nationals cross the rubicon from also-ran to playoff contender, I expect the Chiefs to continue to get older and more experienced, resembling the likes of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pawtucket, and Lehigh Valley more than Toledo, Louisville, and Indianapolis.

I hope that we’ll also see longtime Nationals farmhands be part of that equation, but as we saw last December, that might be too much to wish for.

With that, let’s follow the format… taking a look at the team vs. the International League, then drilling down to the players. The one difference, however, is I’ll focus only on the Top 10 players who were 27 or younger (i.e. league-average age) with significant usage (~100AB, 17G). Full statistics for the team can be found here.
HITTING

PITCHING
 As a 70-74 record would suggest, Syracuse was indeed a team that was middle of the pack: pretty much 6th or 7th in virtually every offensive category, 7th in terms of fielding percentage and errors committed, and mostly 7th in all the pitching categories. The exceptions were pitching walks and strikeouts, both of which were the fewest in the league, and complete games and shutouts, which were the most in the league. With all the comings and goings — a total of 64 players donned the Chiefs uniform (including this fugly getup) in 2012 — this is about the best you can reasonably expect.

Let’s take a look at the age-appropriate batters…
For those wondering, Bryce Harper had just 84PA and rather unimpressive line of .243/.325/.365 in 21 games. It’s certainly proof that these statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, and if you believe the prospect gurus, a pound in the short-season leagues.

Like last year, and even with with the 28+ folks filtered out, you’re still looking at a collection of veteran minor-leaguers with a handful of prospects mixed in. Unfortunately, only one of those is in his first go ’round in AAA (Eury Perez). Zach Walters missed the cut with 105PA, but both he and Perez are both likely to return in 2013, perhaps with a collection of voodoo dolls to facilitate a call-up.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Corey Brown and Carlos Rivero. Brown, who turns 27 in a couple of weeks, has been stuck at Syracuse now for two seasons. Rivero, who had the kind of comeback year that nicely fits the “change of scenery” narrative, seems likely to be back, too. Joining him may be Chris Marrero, who’s probably wondering what might have been for 2012 had he not gotten hurt in winter ball. It’s a stretch (pun most definitely intended) to think that he might have had the season Tyler Moore had (given his defensive limitations), but he’d certainly be in a better position than he is now.

On to the pitchers…
  A year ago I semi-predicted that half of the age-appropriate Chiefs pitchers would no longer be in the organization. Thanks in part to the Gio Gonzalez trade, that turned out to be true. That may very well be true next November, too, though a strong portion of that will simply be because they’ve either aged out or have been granted free agency.

As aforementioned, I expect another wave of FAs to fill out the Syracuse staff. It’s hard to envision more than a couple of the Harrisburg pitchers moving up (my guess: the Ryans Tatusko and Perry) and harder to project anyone other than Christian Garcia making the parent club out of spring training. Of course, that’s not as harsh as that reads when you stop to consider that doing so means cracking the staff that led the National League in ERA and FIP was second in runs allowed.

It’s been a leitmotif while doing the 2012 season reviews that the organization’s strength has shifted from pitchers to position players. Perhaps I’d feel differently if so many weren’t hurt or have had surgery. No. 1 below ought not to be 27 years old and coming off not one but two UCL replacement surgeries, but it’s emblematic of the state of Nationals pitching in the minors… and he certainly looks like a candidate for the 25-man roster next April.

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE
Heavy emphasis on the obligatory… As you can see below, these are basically the five guys that either haven’t been ranked previously or have time on their side. Garcia has already been covered. The next three will be 25 by next July but only one of them was fully healthy all season long (Rivero). The last turned 26 last month and could potentially be picked next month in the Rule 5 draft (Lehman). This is when my policy of not naming guys to multiple levels (a.k.a. double-dipping) doesn’t look so good.

1. Christian Garcia
2. Carlos Rivero
3. Chris Marrero
4. Erik Komatsu
5. Pat Lehman
HM: Corey Brown

I struggled over whether or not to name Corey Brown yet again. Has he been stuck at Syracuse due to circumstance (i.e. he’s a younger version of Roger Bernadina)? Is he still with the organization only because Mike Rizzo admits his mistakes as readily as Karl Rove? Or is he indeed the dreaded “4A” player? He turns 27 in two weeks, and may not be on the 40-man next week, but I’ll give him the honorable mention because while he may not be a bench or platoon OF for Washington, he could be for another team.

Oct 292012
 

The 2012 Potomac Nationals will most likely be remembered by those that watched them closely (*ahem*) for two things: (1) the team that couldn’t win on the road (2) underachievement. You can argue against the latter to a certain extent, but it’s pretty hard to argue against the former: A 10-26 mark in the first half, a 12-21 mark in the second for a combined 22-47 mark that was third-worst in affiliated ball (Louisville, 22-51; N.W. Arkansas, 22-48).

This, of course, would be unremarkable except that in Woodbridge, the 64-win P-Nats were 42-28 — third-best in the Carolina League behind 74-win Myrtle Beach (42-26) and 87-win Winston-Salem (48-23). When I dug into it in early June, I discovered that at least some of it was attributable to the offense hitting nearly 100 points better on the road than at home, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since the Pfitz generally comes up as neutral in ballpark effects. Other factors are surely at play here, but it’s interesting (at least to me) nevertheless.

Underachievement is a little more in the eye of the beholder. It’s often the disconnect between expected and actual performance. While as a fan (disclosure: see first sentence in “About” below), I feel like this team underachieved, as prospect follower I have to allow for the alternate, more objective interpretation that perhaps some of these guys simply hit their ceiling. There just aren’t very many guys that finished in Woodbridge in August that I don’t expect to see again next April; nearly everybody that deserved a bump up to Harrisburg got one.

So let’s take a look at the first P-Nats team to miss the Carolina League playoffs since 2009:
HITTING

PITCHING

There are two things that strike me when I look at these two comparisons: (1) How similar Potomac’s pitching totals were to Hagerstown’s (2) How much better the hitting was than I would have guessed (nearly mediocre vs. subpar). What didn’t shock me was the low OBP. Francisco Soriano, Blake Kelso and Michael Taylor shared the team lead with 40 walks drawn in 87, 106 and 109 games. David Freitas was next with 39 — in 78 games. Seemed like every time I would fill out my scorecard, I’d be filling in OBPs with numbers that looked like batting averages.

That’s a natural segue to the Top 13* batters (* for 2010 Draft Picks, ** for DSL graduates). Full team statistics can be found here. *Another “extra” to catch a notable

There are some bright spots if you look for them — Kevin Keyes and Jason Martinson’s power, for example. Ricky Hague demonstrating he can play second base (.983FA in 35G). Michael Taylor living up to the hype for his defensive skills in center. But there are also things to pick that aren’t nits — Taylor, Martinson, and Keyes whiffed a lot. The team’s left fielders gave the team’s centerfielders ample opportunity to show off their range.

As aforementioned, none of this is unusual — it’s emblematic of the level: players too good for Low-A, but not quite good enough for AA. The question is whether or not there’s a “yet” in that sentence. This is often where some players repeat… and many will stall (see: Peacock, Brian; Martinez, Carlos).

On to the pitchers…

Well, at least there wasn’t much in the way of mediocrity. The pitchers were either good or they were bad. And even some of the “bad” were pitchers had their moments of “good.” The Matts are a good example of this. Swynenberg was terrific in April, pitching one of the best games of the year on the final Sunday of the month. Grace finished the season strong, capping off his season with eight shutout innings against playoff-bound Wilmington on the final Saturday of the season, a game that Steve Souza won with an 11th-inning grand slam.

Enough has been “said” about how good Nathan Karns was this season. Unfortunately, that leaves us with discussing how disappointing Robbie Ray’s season was. Most of the damage was done in the second half — 1-9, 7.67 vs. 3-3, 4.89 — with the southpaw becoming particularly prone to giving up the longball (10 in his last 10 appearances). Perversely, I was almost wishing to learn that he had been hurt; easier to give him a pass, so “speak.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have the magic bullet as to the why (and if I did, I wouldn’t tell ;-) As the season progressed he struggled with his command, issuing nearly double the walks and seemingly always falling into hitter’s counts and it was usually in the early going, not the middle innings. He turned 21 four weeks ago, so it’s not the end of the world, but it’s the primary reason he still makes the…

OBLIGATORY TOP FOUR LISTS
I thought about only listing three apiece, but decided to go with four as an acknowledgement of the bias that comes with being a disappointed fan of the team. There’s more projection here than usual, as alluded in the discussion of Ray, and I’m giving some props to the guys that finished the season strong.

Batters
1. Michael Taylor
2. Kevin Keyes
3. Ricky Hague
4. Adrian Sanchez
HM: Randolph Oduber

Pitchers
1. Nathan Karns
2. Neil Holland
3. Rob Wort
4. Robbie Ray
HM: Matt Grace

Oct 012012
 

For better or worse, this is where the Nationals have decided to cultivate its teenage talent. The trend of getting younger has leveled off as well. The average bat was 18.1 years old, just as it was in 2011; the average arm was 19.0 years old, a shade older than last year’s crew, which was 18.9 years old.
The team, however, finished third in its division with a mark of 38-32 (.543) — its best finish since 2008, when the DSL Nationals1 won the league.

As referenced in the comments, there’s only so much that we can glean from the DSL. It is, after all, just box scores and stats. We obsess over player ages while simultaneously doubting them in light of countless scandals that are a byproduct of that obsession (not to mention abject poverty, but let’s steer clear of socioeconomic discussion, like the NCAA does despite pretending otherwise).

One of the imperfect measures we do have is seeing how many of the DSL Nationals advance to the GCL. Four position players and seven pitchers advanced to the GCL from 2011 to 2012, similar figures to the 2010 to 2011, which were four and six respectively. As one might expect, the progression beyond that hasn’t been as good: just two of the non-Smiley 2010 DSL Nationals that have made it to Auburn or Hagerstown (Narciso Mesa, Wirkin Estevez). There’s hope for the last Bowden class (the 2009 DSL Nationals), which includes Estarlin Martinez, Wander Ramos, and Pedro Encarnacion.

Following the format from the past two years, let’s take a look at how the team did vs. the league averages…
HITTING (GPA = Gross Production Average)

PITCHING

Offensively, the DSL Nationals were the fifth-best in the DSL, with much it coming from speed — directly, in the way of stolen bases (3rd best); indirectly, in the way of doubles (2nd best). They were slightly above average in terms of walks, and slightly below in terms of strikeouts. The pitching, as you’ve probably guessed, was bad, 28th out of the 35-team DSL and the defense was league-average at .952, with the catchers throwing out 42% of the would-be thieves (vs. 38% for the league).

Using 100PA as the cutoff, here’s how the 2012 DSL Nationals broke down, with the primary player at each position listed under “G” and total games played “GP” (e.g. Raudy Read played 44 of 68 games played at catcher). Fielding percentage is for the primary position played for the starters while the bench and utility guys players have their numbers combined. Folks interested in seeing the full team and its stats can click here.

Space prohibits me from including this in the graphic, but I’ll point out that eight of the these 13 guys had OBPs that were at or above the league average. Leading the pack was speedster Rafael Bautista, who got on base at a .419 clip and led the league in stolen bases with 47. Raudy Read showed an unusual amount of power, hitting nine home runs and 16 doubles in his sophomore season. The 18-y.o. Read was one of three regulars to surpass .400 in slugging percentage, with 19-y.o. Jose “Orange” Marmolejos-Diaz leading the way at .490, Read second with a .441 mark, and 17-y.o. Randy Novas a show at .421.

This brings me to the most notable name not listed here: Thomas Alvarez, an 17-year-old American who grew up in New York, presumably born to Dominican parents, and returned to the D.R. to go pro. He was signed for $40K in June and played sparingly throughout the season, putting up a line of .222/.391/.444 in 18 games. Not much else can be found, so it remains to be seen whether this is someone we’ll hear from again or whether he’ll be the 2012 version of Dionicio Rosario.

On to the pitchers, listing the Top 12 in terms of innings pitched…
As aforementioned, the pitching was substandard this year, perhaps even worse when you stop to consider that so many 20-year-olds carried the load. Maximo Valerio, who turned 17 in late July, was the bright spot with slightly better than league-average numbers in his first season. It’s hard to envision more than a couple of these pitchers making it to the GCL next season, though as stated last year, most draft gurus will caution against getting too excited about summer-league players. And I’ll repeat: This is where I’ve made a lot of my mistakes in picking players to watch, which brings us to the…

OBLIGATORY TOP FIVE LISTS
For the second straight year, my #1 picks (Diomedes Eusebio, Gilberto Mendez) moved up to the GCL. Yay! And for the second straight year, I had one of my Top 5’s get released (Rosario). Boo!

I’m very confident this will happen again, particularly among the pitchers; hence, the honorable mentions to a pair of 17-year-olds with good peripherals in tiny sample sizes. Valerio and (ugh) J-Rod get the nods because of usage and age, the rest because they’re either lefthanded (Gomez), and/or throw strikes (Silvestre), or have the earmarks of an injury gamble (Ruiz).

Top 5 Batters
1. Raudy Read
2. Randy Novas
3. Osvaldo Abreu
4. Rafael Bautista
5. Jose Marmolejos-Diaz

Top 5 Pitchers
1. Maximo Valerio
2. Hector Silvestre
3. Jefry Rodriguez
4. Elisaul Gomez
5. Raul Ruiz

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jorge Berrio, Jonathan Aquino