AFL/Offseason Update: Oct. 14, 2017

The Solar Sox got three in the first and never looked back as they held on for a 4-2 win over the Javelinas.

Daniel Johnson got the start in right field and led off again but was 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts. Defensively, he had just one putout.

Taylor Gushue started at catcher but was also 0-for-4 but with only one whiff. He threw out two of three runners trying to steal against him.

Dakota Bacus made his second appearance, a scoreless 8th inning with one hit allowed and one K on 12 pitches.

Mesa remains on the road to close out the week, visiting Glendale this afternoon.
                          #                          #                          #
BA TOP PROSPECT LISTS
Baseball America completed its fall SEO campaign swing through the League Top 20s this week and, as mentioned in the comments, Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna came in at nos. 4 and 5 respectively. Garcia is obviously more advanced defensively, but Antuna is proving the inference that there must be a reason why they’re tolerating 26 errors in 36 games, and that reason is that he can hit (.301/.382/.399). With more than $5M “invested”* between them, the 2017-2018 offseason question is whether one or both start next spring in Hagerstown.
* Quotes because the signing bonus is reflection of the IFA system, not the players. About the only thing that makes it better than the NCAA is that nobody’s pretending that it’s not about the money.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
Just some releases from the DSL:
• RHPs Christian Flores, Hector Ramirez, Francisco Constanzo, Rafael Melendez
• LHP Yelmery Sisnero
• 1B Luis Santana
• LF David Escobar

WINTER LEAGUE SIGHTINGS
Winter Leagues have already begun in Venezuela, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Rosters are incomplete, but there is a sizable contingent on Los Tigres de Licey in the DWL.

THE HAGERSTOWN SUNS
Finally, we’ve reached the full-season teams – where we have some semblance of non-team coverage – but we’re also hitting the divide between prospects and minor-leaguers. This is the apex, after this week it’s going to be Victor Robles and a whole lot of “well, maybe if…”

We’re also at the first of two levels where we have some eyes on the field. My “Hagerstown Guy,” who has a love-hate relationship with both the Suns and the Nationals (i.e. he loves to hate on them 🙃), has his thoughts on the hitters as well as the throw…er, pitchers.

The Suns were one of two (2) affiliates with a winning record in 2017. However, unlike the G-Nats, they did not make the playoffs as the first-half champion Intimidators swept them by a combined score of 28-7 in a pair of doubleheaders in the final week before the All-Star break and they missed the mark by 1½ games. A tailspin on 13 losses in 17 games in mid-to-late August sealed their fate in the second half, as four straight wins to finish out sliced the margin to 2½ games.

Injuries (Juan Soto, Carter Kieboom) and trades (Tyler Watson, Sheldon Neuse) ate into the Hagerstown’s production, which was third in the 14-team Sally Lg., while the pitching was 11th. The team outperformed its Pythagorean projection of .500 as it scored 643 runs and allowed 643 runs. Oddly, the Suns allowed the fewest stolen bases and threw out the fewest baserunners.

Now, for the Obligatory Top 5’s (of the players who remain)….

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Carter Kieboom, SS
.304 GPA, .497 SLG%
1. Sterling Sharp, RHSP
3.69/3.81/1.23, 1.36 BB/9
2. Daniel Johnson, OF
.295 GPA, 17HR in 88G
2. Hayden Howard, LHRP
2.95/3.63/1.31, 3.22 K:BB ratio
3. Juan Soto, OF
.323 GPA, .523 SLG%
3. Ben Braymer, LHSP
5.26/3.47/1.43, 8.84 K/9
4. Tres Barrera, C
.275 GPA, 3PB, .995 FA
4. A.J. Bogucki, RHSP
3.56/3.78/1.24, 3HR in 55⅔ IP
5. Blake Perkins, OF
.254 GPA, 31SB, 7E, 8 Assists
5. Matt DeRosier, RHSP
3.60/3.45/1.18, 8.5 K/9

Picking the hitters was easy. I’m sure someone will argue for Jake Noll over Perkins or Barrera; I saw him in Potomac in August and he didn’t impress me. Maybe I’m being unfair to Aldrem Corredor, but he’s just 22 and with a shortage of 1B in the system, he’ll more than likely make the 2018 watchlist.

Picking the pitchers was not easy. Trades took away the no-doubt guys, and no one (even the traded pitchers) had a league-average FIP.

As always, folks interested in seeing the full stats can find them here.

AFL Update: Oct. 13, 2017

Mesa rallied for five in the bottom of the 8th but still fell one run short (how novel) for a 9-8 loss to Peoria.

Daniel Johnson (pictured above) led off and played right field. He reached base three times with a walk in the 1st, a single in the 2nd, an a single in the 8th. He scored twice, stole two bases, and drove in two. Defensively, he made three putouts and threw out a runner trying to advance to second on a two-out RBI single.

Kelvin Gutierrez started at third base but was removed when his hand was stepped on in a play at third base in the top of the first inning.

The two teams rematch and switch venues with Mesa visiting Peoria.

AFL Update: Oct. 12, 2017

Scottsdale built a 4-1 lead midway through yesterday’s tilt against Mesa but a four-spot in the 6th and a grand slam by former National farmhand Sheldon Neuse in the 7th powered the Solar Sox to a 9-8 win.

Kyle McGowin got the start, but was knocked around for three runs (two earned) on six hits over four innings. He walked none and struck out six.

Austen Williams was the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen, but wasn’t much more effective as he allowed one run on two hits and a walk over two innings. He was the pitcher of record when the Solar Sox rallied and got credit for the win.

Jimmy Cordero also made his first appearance, working around two hits in a scoreless 8th inning while striking out one.

Daniel Johnson (pictured above; he was safe) got the start in centerfield and went 2-for-4 with a triple and scored twice. Defensively, he made one putout.

Taylor Gushue was behind the dish and threw out two of four runners trying to steal, though he committed an error and racked up 10 putouts. To the left of the plate, he went 1-for-4.

Mesa plays Peoria over the next two afternoons with a home game today and in Peoria tomorrow.

AFL Update: Oct. 11, 2017

The Nats’ 2017 entry in the Arizona Fall League—the Mesa Solar Sox—hit the ground face-first as the Scottsdale Scorpions dropped a four-spot in the 3rd and a deuce in the 4th en route to a 7-4 win.

Just two Nationals appeared in the game. Dakota Bacus (above) came on to put out the fire with two outs in the 4th. He stranded one runner, then pitched a 1-2-3 fifth to finished with one and 1/3 scoreless innings pitched with one strikeout.

Kelvin Gutierrez (below) got the start at third base but went 0-for-4 at the plate and made an assist on a groundout in the 5th.

The two teams switch venues and play day game this afternoon. Mesa plays day games the rest of the week before an off day on Sunday.

As noted in the comments, Daniel Johnson has replaced Victor Robles on the Mesa roster. There has been speculation that Robles will join the team if/when the Nationals are eliminated from the playoffs, but nothing official has been released.

Nats to Look for a new AAA Affiliate for 2019

By now, you’ve probably heard that the New York Mets have bought the Syracuse Chiefs, which have been the Nationals’ AAA affiliate since 2009.

Details at this point are still scarce – we don’t know, for example, how much the sale price was or whether the Chiefs approached the Mets or vice-versa. At this point, I tend to believe the latter.

Why? Because for the past 10 years, the trend has been for major-league teams to buy affiliates to ensure a desired location or environment, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America writes here. As any East Coast team would be, the Mets were unhappy with the logistics of flying a player from the West Coast.

More intriguing is Cooper’s environment argument, which has seen the California League lose two teams and the Carolina League expanded by two and two franchises purchased (Salem by Boston in 2009, Carolina by Milwaukee this year). It’s almost mandatory for a prospect writer to excuse poor pitching and discount good hitting in the CAL. It also makes it harder for the analytics folks to break down, and even harder for the casual fans to understand (well, aside from “the whole league is like the Colorado Rockies”).

As the headline suggests, the Nats are now back to trying to find a new home for their roster-fill…er, AAA team. The knee-jerk analysis is that they’ll end up in the market that the Mets are leaving: Las Vegas. While certainly possible, there are 17 teams that have expiring PDCs after next season and nine of them are in the PCL like Vegas, baby (sorry, autocorrect).

Presuming that the Nationals will want to stay in the I.L. and not knowing the politics of the PDCs, my best guess is that Washington will make a play for Rochester. Given the Baltimore-DC rivalry, I know lots of folks would want a shot at Norfolk, but do you remember that time when the O’s were outbid or outmaneuvered by the Nats? Not to mention, I’m not sure if the drive will be any shorter.

In any case, the relative stability of the affiliates — same five since 2010 — has been shaken and changes are coming.

Offseason Update: Oct. 7, 2017

They only got two hits. Neither was a home run. You tend to lose those games when that happens, no matter how well your pitcher pitched.

Back to our weekly minors update…

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
With the addition of Victor Robles to Washington’s NLDS roster, his replacement on the Mesa Solar Sox roster has not yet been named. Should Rizzo’s sports bar continue its anti-DUI practice–you’re done after one round–it’s still possible that he could play in the opening game on Tuesday.

BA TOP 20 PROSPECT LISTS
As usual, the Nats had no top 20 prospects in the New York Penn League Top 20. There was just one question in the NYPL Top 20 chat:

Sammy (DC): Where would you have placed Seth Romero on this list? Any word on whether or not his makeup had improved?

J.J. Cooper: The reviews were less complimentary than expected. The stuff was solid as he showed three average or better pitches, but the slider wasn’t as devastating as evaluators expected. Fellow 2017 Nats draftee Nick Raquet looks just as good or better with a plus fastball, some funk to his delivery and a quality breaking ball. Romero may have been rusty after a long layoff, but next season is a big one for him as he needs to show consistency both on the mound and being a professional off of it.

TRANSACTION STUFF
Just two re-signings: RHPs Wirkin Estevez and Greg Ross.

THE AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS
It’s been five straight seasons without a winner at Falcon Park (the home team, natch), which may lead some folks to wonder about the water in the region. Alas, it would appear to be more attributable to either drafting lower or better prospects skipping past the level.

Unlike a year ago, hitting was not the problem. The Doubledays were fourth in runs scored (4.33 R/G), which you’d expect from the oldest team in the league. Almost 60% of the PAs were made players older than 21 and almost 16% by players 23 or older excluding rehabs.

It was the pitching: 13th in the 14-team NYPL at 4.89 R/G (Lg. Avg. 4.05), surpassed only by the team they tied for last place in the Pinckney Division, Batavia, at 4.93. The relief pitching in particular was bad, with several relievers sporting ERAs of 5.00 or higher and FIPs above 4.00 (i.e. nearly a run higher than lg. avg).

As I typically do with cellar-dwelling teams, I’m combining the list into one. Like the GCL and DSL, I’m excluding age-inappropriate players. But this year, I’m not ranking them because it’ll just create pointless arguments in the comments. The sample sizes here are so small and there are some rather noticeable red flags in the stats, as “meaningless” as they may be.

Wil Crowe, RHSP 0-0, 0SV, 7GS, 2.61/4.45/1.02, 3HR in 20⅔ IP
Kameron Esthay, OF .273/.320/.411, 5HR, 30RBI in 52G
Gabe Klobosits, RHRP 0-0, 5SV, 15G, 1.66/2.74/1.15, promoted twice in 1st yr.
Nick Raquet, LHSP 3-2, 0SV, 11GS 2.45/3.55/1.23; 3.9 K/9
Seth Romero, LHSP 0-1, 0SV, 6GS 5.40/1.13/1.25; 14.4 K/9
Chance Shepard, 1B/DH .249/.372/.459, 7HR in 54G
Jackson Tetrault, RHSP 2-2, 0SV, 11G, 6GS, 2.58/3.15/1.25, 38⅓ IP

For those wondering about Oliver Ortiz and Andres Martinez, who are age-appropriate and had decent production: both were repeating the level and/or had been dropped down from Hagerstown. Full stats for the team can be found here.

Offseason Update: Sept. 30, 2017

We’re down to the final weekend, wondering not who the big club will play in the NLDS, but when. Is it okay to root for an odd start time in hopes of snagging a ticket on the resale market? Asking for a friend.

Alas, plenty o’ places to discuss that, but we’re just little ol’ minors site…

BA TOP 20 LISTS
As expected, Victor Robles also made the Carolina League Top 20, albeit as only the #2, and was joined by Daniel Johnson at #18. Double-dipping is what BA does, and thus Johnson also made the Sally Lg. top 20 at #13. Carter Kieboom’s incumbency and an impressive showing in an abbreviated season (210 of 255PA at Hagerstown) made him the #8 pick. For those who obsess over the departed, Sheldon “Come On Feel The” Neuse was the #20 pick but McKenzie Mills was not ranked.

A couple of tidbits from yesterday’s chat:

Noel (Portland): Is Kieboom likely a 2b in the bug leagues?
J.J. Cooper: More likely a 2b or 3B than SS, but he has enough feel to maybe make SS work for a while.

Nats Fan (DC): When comparing Victor Robles to Juan Soto, it’s obvious that Robles is the far superior defender. However, when comparing them offensively, is it fair to say that Robles profiles as a #2 spot hitting CF who will hit .280 with 12-15 HRs a year while Juan Soto is your prototypical #3/#4 who in his prime should be hitting .300+ with 25-30 HRs?
J.J. Cooper: I’d say that’s fair. A lot of projection involved here, but Robles’ value comes more from speed/defense. Soto is a bat-first prospect.

Soto did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the list.

TRANSACTIONS
It’s a Yukon Cornelius week.

THE 2017 GCL NATIONALS
Thanks to the suggestion to stop covering the Chiefs, the G-Nats were watched the most closely since 2014. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was another playoff run, as they made it to the GCL Finals but lost the best-of-three series 2-1 to the G-Yankees East. Pitching carried this team, as they were the fifth-best team at 3.95 R/G and had just a slightly-better-than-league-average offense (4.57 vs. 4.51 R/G) while the defense was below-average.

What’s perhaps most encouraging is that the four most-used players on offense were 17 or younger and were in their first professional season. Two of them were even better than the league average, which is impressive for any first-year player, never mind one too young to vote in this country (if he was a U.S. citizen, natch). And while Yasel Antuna may have been a running joke for his 20 errors in 21 games at SS, methinks they’ll find position for his .301/.382/.399 bat stay in the lineup.

Now, for the reminder that the sample sizes here are small, as are the odds of many of these guys to rise above Low-A.

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Justin Connell, LF
.274 GPA, .407 OBP
1. Tomas Alastre, RHSP
2.55/3.38/1.02, 6.2 H/9IP
2. Yasel Antuna, SS
.272 GPA, 23BB
2. Angel Guillen, RHRP
3.42/3.00/1.18, 1.9 BB/9
3. Luis Garcia, 2B
.245 GPA, .387 SLG%
3. Jackson Stoeckinger, LHSP
4.73/2.49/1.31, 10.46 K/9IP
4. Jamori Blash, 1B
.237 GPA, .985 FA
4. Darly Infante, LHRP
4.43/3.69/1.39, 10.48 K/9IP
5. Juan Evangelista, RF
.235 GPA, 3HR
5. Jose Jimenez, LHRP
1.35/3.87/1.13, 1.9 BB/9

The hype went to the IFAs but the most production came from 18-y.o. Justin Connell, an 11th Rd. pick from Pembroke Pines, FL. Honorable mentions go to 35th-Rd. pick Jackson Cramer, who turns 23 in December, and 22nd-Rd. pick 19-y.o. Nelson Galindez at 1B and RHSP respectively. The full team’s statistics can be viewed here.

Johnson, Suero, Read Honored with Organizational Awards

Weeks of speculation by dozens (OK, basically: us) was ended last night when the Nationals honored Daniel Johnson, Wander Suero, and Raudy Read with its 2017 Organizational Awards.

Johnson ended a two-year run by Jose “Orange” Marmolejos as the Player of the Year with an upset win over Victor Robles with a .298/.356/.505 line across two levels (.300/.382/.493 for Robles) and just increased his odds of being traded exponentially; ten organizational award winners have been traded since 2009. Johnson led the age-appropriate minor-leaguers in HR’s with 22 (28-y.o. Neftali Soto had 23, 30-y.o. Brandon Snyder had 24).

Suero, as speculated in the comments, was an unobjectionable choice in a season where no pitcher posted an ERA under 3.00 while throwing more than 100 innings. The 26-y.o. led the Nats minors in saves with 20, 10 apiece at AA and AAA. He pitched in 54 games, finished 45 of them, had an ERA of 1.79 with a WHIP of 1.07 while striking out 65 in 65⅓ innings. Call me crazy, but I think he’d have rather been added to the 40-man and called up.

Finally, there’s the ineffable Bob Boone Award, which went to Raudy Read in its fifth edition (previous winners: Tony Renda, Wilmer Difo, Austen Williams, and Rafael Bautista). Read lowered his passed balls total from 20 recorded instances to 14 while committing a career-high 10 errors. But he also more than doubled his HR total from nine to 17 and recorded his second-highest slugging percentage of .455.

Offseason Update: Sept. 23, 2017

Fall arrived yesterday afternoon but we’ve yet to see the chill rains come. The big Nats are lurching towards the postseason, the drama reduced to who will make the postseason roster (a.k.a. who’s healthy enough to play) and how he’ll be used.

100 wins? Home-field advantage? Both possible but not probable. Even Stevie Wonder can see that Dusty Baker has been managing the club to minimize fatigue, which has prompted the knee-jerk comparisons to spring training.

But we’re here to talk/read about the minor-leaguers….

STATE OF THE FARM
As noted in the comments, the Nats were near the bottom of the collective standings with a .456 winning percentage, tied with the Mets. While it’s tempting to put that all on the Syracuse Chiefs, the worst team in AAA at 54-87, the Harrisburg Senators (60-80), Auburn Doubledays (30-45), and DSL Nationals (28-43) also “contributed.”

Unlike a year ago, we can’t point to the breakthrough of a new starter or position player or even a key reliever. It was supplying the “next man up” (my apologies, but DC is still a football town) for the bevy of injuries that have dogged this team/organization like they were wearing Milk-Bone underwear even more than last season, which was a lot.

There’s still some guys to be excited about, but the vast majority of them are in the lower minors, which means a lot of the buzz is based on things that are constant variables like their age or their draft position. And if we’re honest, there are roughly half a dozen guys that wouldn’t make a Top 30 list in most other organizations.

I can’t say that the organization isn’t still meeting the bare minimum requirements of developing talent that can be useful to the big club, albeit mostly in depth and trading chips. But I can say it’s not doing much else.

BA TOP 20 LISTS
I’m sure you’ve gotten over the shock of not a single Chief making the International League Top 20 for Baseball America, but you may be a little surprised that two Nationals farmhands made BA’s Eastern League Top 20 – Victor Robles and Erick Fedde.

About the only argument you can make against Robles is that he didn’t play enough, though BA – as it usually does – sets the bar very low: just one PA or ⅓ IP per team game for position players and starting pitchers (20 appearances for relievers). Personally, I’d set it at about twice those marks, except for the relievers; that does seem about right.

Fedde, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly dominant at any level this season. Yes, I know it’s not all about stats but I do believe the two are not mutually exclusive. I’d also have to question his placement since he split time between starting and relieving for Harrisburg. But incumbency is also a BA hallmark…

I’d expect Robles to make the Carolina League Top 20, and FWIW, Carter Kieboom does have the necessary number of PAs for the Sally Lg. so stay tuned this week.

THE WATCHLIST AND THE GBI
As noted a year ago, these have become more difficult to do. The system isn’t as deep as it used to be (or seemed to be) and all the losing tends not to produce the kind of numbers or streaks that are “G-worthy.” I had forgotten about my “note to self” to drop the GBI from every three weeks to monthly. That seems about right these days, and that’ll be the goal in 2018.

As for the watchlist, it may get shorter, but it’s a core part of the offseason ritual, and it’s how I get caught up on the short-season guys, so I don’t see it going away.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
We’re now in the re-signing season, where would-be FAs opt to stick around rather than try their luck elsewhere:
• RHP Brady Dragmire
• LHP Hector Silvestre
• IF-OF Khayyan Norfork

No huge surprises here. Dragmire was (finally) starting to pitch well at the end of the season. Silvestre turns 25 in December and has yet to pitch above High-A, but between Washington’s pitching-starved upper minors, and it’s “sunk-cost” approach to Dominican prospects, he might get that chance in 2018. Norfork has made a career thus far on his versatility, and let’s face it: He could be the next Adrian Sanchez.

THE DSL NATIONALS
Despite having a handful of players in their third DSL season, the team actually had a fairly normal blend of players in terms of age. Like a year ago, the batters were a shade older than league average (18.2 vs. 18.1) while the pitchers were slightly younger (18.4 vs. 18.7).

The offense was right around league average (4.65 R/G vs. 4.60) but the pitching was 35th in the 40-team DSL and nearly a run worse (5.49) per game. The defense was also right around league average (.955 FA vs. .956). All of this is sight-unseen, strictly numbers-based observation, so take it with a fistful of salt.

Without further comment, here are the obligatory Top 5’s, excluding “three-timers” and players who were old for the level…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Wilmer Perez, C/1B/DH
.288 GPA, 17-2B, 4-3B, 3HR
1. Alfonso Hernandez, LHSP
2.10/2.53/1.17, 9.86 K/9IP
2. Adrian Liriano, SS/2B
.242 GPA, 15BB
2. Rafael Gomez, RHSP
4.09/2.88/1.27, 1HR in 55IP
3. Landerson Pena, RF/LF
.244 GPA, 13SB
3. Joan Adon, RHRP
3.54/3.12/0.96, 9.96 K/9IP
4. Luis Aquino, SS/LF
.240 GPA, 19SB
4. Niomar Gomez, RHSP
4.07/3.17/1.27, 2.52 K:BB ratio
5. Caldioli Sanfler, CF
.237 GPA, 58 of 60G at CF, .984 FA
5. Pedro Gonzalez, RHSP
5.30/3.51/1.63, 12GS, 52⅔ IP, turned 17 in July

An honorable mention goes to Geraldi Diaz, the analog to Pedro Gonzalez. He also turned 17 in July and appeared in 41 games behind the plate with a .989 fielding percentage while hitting .001 below the .232 league-average GPA. Folks interested in seeing the entire team’s stats can find them here.

Checking In…

Like the past couple of Septembers, we’re in a weird lull between the usual offseason sequence of events. The big club has already clinched – though that says a lot more about the division than the Nationals – but most of the focus on “the kids” is the singular (i.e. Victor Robles), which is fine when he’s doing well. I don’t envy Dusty Baker’s task in picking when, where, and how to play Robles because if he is indeed being groomed to take a postseason roster spot, he’s going to have to limit the chances for advance scouts to find a flaw.

As noted in the comments, the instrux roster was released, which, thankfully, doesn’t have the urgency that it once had. For me, it’s mostly an indicator of who the club values for next season, who may have underperformed this season, and confirmation that some names that we haven’t seen in quite some time weren’t quietly released in April or May.

The organizational awards, which used to be named in early September, are still unannounced. You can probably bet the farm on Robles getting the nod as the Player of the Year, but Pitcher of the Year is going to elicit arguments.

You can’t give it to McKenzie Mills, who was the actual best pitcher until he was traded. Erick Fedde? Is that a consolation prize for how badly he was mishandled? Try selling Joan Baez, even if he led the Nats minors in innings pitched and strikeouts and was second in wins (yes, really). Wander Suero? That begs the question of why he wasn’t called up or put on the 40-man roster.

It will be interesting to see who the Nationals pick because there really isn’t one currently in the organization who merits the title. Not to mention finding out who’s the coaches’ favorite this year’s Bob Boone Award winner.

Until or unless something else comes up, season reviews begin next week.