Approaching The Turn…

A fan’s take on the full-season affiliates at the halfway point of the season

[Ed. Note: Another guest column for frequent commenter BinM]

As we close on the halfway point for the full-season affiliates, and begin ramping up the short-season teams, here’s a review of the minor-league side of the Nationals Organization as of June 20…

Syracuse Chiefs (AAA) – 27-40
I had initially expected a much better result from this squad, given their makeup out of Spring Training; It’s been disapointing, to say the least. The offense has struggled for consistency, the pitching has been less than overpowering, and the bullpen has been sketchy, with all areas affected, given the callups to the big club so far. This is a team starved for consistent run producers. Marrero (.282/.345/.431 slash) is okay, but still prone to streaks, as is Matt Antonelli (.316/.391/.469), and Jhonatan Solano (.266/.326/.367).

The starting staff has been bounced around between the big club and Syracuse a bit, but both Maya (0-1 W-L, 6.86 ERA, 1.78 WHIP in four GS in DC), and Craig Stammen (0-1 W-L, 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP in two relief appearances) were returned. The bullpen promotions fared slightly better, with Henry Rodriguez, Cole Kimball (15-DL), and Ryan Mattheus still in D.C., while Collin Balester is in yo-yo mode.

Players I like (statistically) so far…
• Marrero (1B): Could be used as trade bait at some point this year; Trapped behind Adam LaRoche, and now Michael Morse at 1B in DC.
• Antonelli (MI): Another trade bait candidate. The big club has depth at MI, so he becomes fungible.
• Milone (LHSP): A personal favorite. The numbers can’t be ignored (4-5 W-L, 3.81 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 16.4:1 K-BB), this kid just knows how to pitch. A September (or earlier) promotion in in his grasp.
• Meyers (RHSP): Has stumbled a bit in SYR, but still may be a ‘dark-horse’ candidate for a 40-man spot; Has posted solid K:BB ratios (9.6:1) over 14 starts between AA and AAA.
• Wilkie (RHRP): Steady, if not overpowering numbers in Syracuse; Worthy of a look in a MR role with somebody at the MLB level.

Harrisburg Senators (AA) – 39-29
Currently leading their division of the Eastern League by 3½ games, the Sens are setting the stage for another playoff appearance, should they remain focused. The team has been getting steady, but not outstanding performances across the board in all aspects of the game so far this season, with no glaring weaknesses either.

Offensively, the standout hitters have been Lombardozzi (a .309/.366/.454 slash from primarily to #1 spot in the order), and 2011FA OF acquisitions Chris Rahl (.297/.350/.407) and Archie Gilbert (.287/.369/.468). The starting staff is topped by Brad Peacock, who has posted ridiculous numbers to date (8-2 W-L, 2.46 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 6.0:1 K-W), with no-one else on the staff anywhere close. The bullpen has been filled with solid performers as well, with a number of pitchers posting a WHIP of at or below 1.00 as of this post (Zech Zinicola, Hassanb Pena, Rafael Martin, and Pat Lehman [current] and Rodriguez & Mattheus [promoted]).

Players I like (statistically) so far…
• Lombardozzi (2B): A personal favorite; He’s continuing his climb toward the bigs at 2B; It’s simply a question of when (2012-13), and then maybe with which club (WSH currently has the Espinosa/Desmond combo that looks pretty solid).
• Norris (CA): While currently carrying a low BA, his OBP & SLG numbers are in-line with career norms. He’ll play out the year at Harrisburg and look for a good start at Syracuse next season.
• Rhinehart (1B-OF): It looks like ‘Dolla Bill’ is catching onto AA pitching; Probably an OG in terms of age at this point, he still might be worth a look at an AAA level next year for some team.
• Peacock (RHSP): Another personal favorite; Outstanding numbers so far this season, building on previous season results.

Potomac Nationals (High-A) – 29-40
The hoped-for long home stretch failed to yield big changes to the W-L record. The team enters the All-Star break continuing to struggle offensively, and the pitching still looks uneven. One thing that has become evident is the ability to collect errors in the field, with even the Face of The Franchise (Ryan Zimmerman) falling victim to “the curse of the Pfitz” in a three-game rehab stint.

On the mound, Danny Rosenbaum has been the only consistent starter (4-3, 2.65 ERA, 1.33WHIP), while early-May promotion Cameron Selik could be turning the corner (2-4, 3.64 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) after a horrid beginning. The bullpen has been ragged overall of late, with Hector Nelo, Joe Testa, and Josh Smoker sharing the late-game innings.

At the plate, Destin Hood has been consistent all year (.276/.373/.453 slash), earning an All-Star nomination only to lose it to a knee injury. As his replacement, Jeff Kobernus leads the Carolina League in stolen bases (29) while hitting for an improved .266/.308/.369 line. Eury Perez is proving to be a slap-hitter with speed, when he chooses to use it. Justin Bloxom (.255/.321/.455) has played the majority of his games at 3B, where he is woefully out of
position, and a liability defensively (19 errors in 40 games).

The team currently lacks a player to ‘carry the load’ offensively, and will continue to muddle about until they find one. Maybe they’ll catch some promotions from Hagerstown for the 2nd half; We’ll see if that helps.

Players I like so far…
• Peacock (CA): An 26-y.o. OG, but plays with energy and catches a pretty decent game. Deserves another shot at AA.
• Hood (OF): Only 21, could be a possible for the AFL in 2012 if his knees stay healthy.
• Kobernus (2B): Back in my good graces after two injury-plagued years; Has shown unexpected speed and a consistent glove at 2B.
• Rosenbaum (LHSP): Steady & nearly unshakable on the mound; Needs slightly better control to play at higher levels.
• Nelo (RHRP): An age thing (24yo) as much as anything else – He’s pitching well at high-A, but should be playing to age at AA.
• Smoker (LHRP): Decent numbers, but not quite ready for in-season promotion.

Hagerstown Suns (Low-A) – 40-30
The Suns slumped late, falling out of the 1st half pennant chase in the final week; The good news is they are four games ahead of last years’ pace. There’s a lot to like about this team, both at the plate & on the mound; Having five players named to the All-Star team (Bryce Harper, Blake Kelso, David Freitas, Taylor Jordan, & Chris Manno) speaks to that. Their failings have come mostly in the field or in the bridge innings between the starters and the back end of the bullpen.

The hitters have been the big story, with Harper (.330/.429/.586), Kelso (330/.396/.404), and Freitas (.317/.422/.502) all raking the ball, and others (Randolph Oduber, Brett Newsome) chipping in as well. The starting staff covered the early loss of Selik to Potomac with the additions of Sammy Solis (1-0, 3.62, 1.17), and Robbie Ray (2-0, 1.13, 0.90). The bullpen has been a bit of a roller coaster of late, with both Manno and Ben Graham having
some rough outings in late-inning situations, while most of the middle relievers continue struggle to achieve mediocrity. This is still a team that could be
a force to be reckoned with in the 2nd half of the 2011 season.

Players I like (statistically) so far…
• Harper (OF): He’s ready for the next challenge; It’s just a question of where (Potomac or Harrisburg).
• Kelso (IF): He might need a full year at low-A, as his defense is less than stellar at this point.
• Freitas (CA): Still needs some polish behind the plate, but the pitching hasn’t suffered greatly from his game-calling, imo.
• Oduber (OF): A personal favorite, the ‘Groovin’ Aruban’ could push his way into a higher level with a good 2nd half.
• Jordan (RSP): Almost ready to make the jump to high-A, keeps the ball in the park (1HR in 69.3IP).
• Manno (LRP): Outstanding 1st half; Could be moved up at the All-Star break.
• Holland (RRP): Another personal fave; Outstanding as a set-up man, could move up later this season.

The 2011 Draft
You’ve seen the list, probably read a few evaluation pieces. All I’ll offer here for now is a summary by position.
As of 06/20/11
LHP – 10 drafted, 4 signed [B. Monar (12th), T. Simko (21st), R. Lucas (27th), B. Hawkins (36th)].
RHP – 16 drafted, 6 signed [B. Dupra (7th), M. Rodriguez (10th), T. Henke (22nd), K. Ferrer (28th), A. Kreis (35th), R. Mirowski (45th)].
CA – 2 drafted, 2 signed [E. Fernandez (25th), S. Cotton (29th)].
CI – 5 drafted, 2 signed [M. Skole (5th), B. Ortega (41st)].
MI – 7 drafted, 3 signed [D. Williams (16th), K. Norfolk (23rd), T. Karlen (33rd)].
OF – 11 drafted, 2 signed [C. Ramsey (11th), A. Nix (50th)].

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

28 thoughts on “Approaching The Turn…”

  1. Good solid analysis. I selfishly am hoping Harper gets promoted to Potomac so I can see him play in Frederick in August (saw him in Hagerstown but it was pre-contacts- 1-3 rbi two strikeouts.).

    1. AHartwick, is that you? Thanks for the vote of confidence. You’re not alone in hoping for at least a peek at Harper in Potomac. Sue_D, me, and numerous others undoubtedly wish for the same.

  2. Great writeup…thanks for sharing.

    Couple of comments on the SYR pitchers you cited…

    Milone…deserves a shot this year and will get a 40 man spot since he will be exposed to the Rule 5 draft later in the year.

    Meyers…I think he will also get a 40 man spot as I dont think they will expose him in the Rule 5 draft…he snuck by last year because of his injury.

    Wilkie…would be nice to see him get a shot but since they haven’t given him one yet not sure how this will turn out.


    1. Thanks. As I said, Milone should have a September (or earlier) callup in his grasp. I still look at Meyers as a dark-horse candidate for the 40-man, as he has to prove he can stay healthy; Rizzo has enough DL baggage on the roster as it is (Wang, LaRoche, Strasburg, Mock, E. Ramirez, etc).
      I really think Wilkie’s best chances are going to come from a trade or RuleV next year; He just doesn’t fit Rizzo’s bullpen mold. Too bad, because he’s a kid with local ties (GW grad) and is a good story.

  3. I have a question about the rule V draft, can guys be elligable more than once, or is it a one time deal?

    1. Jeff: Not completely sure, but I believe that players can be (or are) exposed to that phase of the draft annually, as long as they qualify (minimum of four years in orginization, not on 40-man protected roster, no prior MLB service time).

  4. Thanks for the write up surprised you didn’t mention AJ Cole at all in your Hagerstown write up.

  5. Trevor Holder: 9 walks against 41 strike outs in 73.1 innings. Only 5 home runs allowed at the half-way point. WHIP is 1.350. He’s apparently applying what he has been taught at this level by Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart in decreasing the walks … not unlike Tom Milone and Bradley Meyers. Compare to Rosenbaum who has 30 walks and 62 strike outs in 85 innings. Rosenbaum has a 1.33 WHIP. Rosenbaum has allowed only 1 home run so his walks perhaps haven’t hurt him as much.

    Holder made attempts to increase the velocity of his pitches and they ended up in the strike zone too often. Adjustments continue to be made and he does appear to be markedly improving. If he can get more sink and continue to attack the strike zone he’ll have a good second half. He is a fierce competitor who will never back down. What is really going against him is his age. Too old for the level. But I suspect if he manages to continue his progress he will be in Harrisburg before too long.

    1. peric: As Sue_D noted in the comprehensive Potomac review, Holder has been maddening this season. He’ll get beaten like a rented mule in one or two starts, then start to look like he’s getting the program – Rinse, then repeat. It’s not an age thing imo, but more that when he tries to ‘pump up the volume’ (add speed), his pitches don’t move & he gets pummeled. Rosenbaum is closer to a promotable product than Holder at this point in my eyes.

      1. Rosenbaum may be. However, stats don’t like. The dearth of walks. The decline in strikeouts is disconcerting however. He is learning and growing. There are lots of pitchers who were picked far higher and not as roundly lambasted as a draft pick who were unable to achieve Holder’s level of competence?

        Listing just a few? Josh Smoker still can’t get it straight even as a reliever. Anyone remember Colton Wilems? He just gave up. Then there’s professional student and now TJ recovery experiment McGreary. Great choices weren’t they?

        What is clearly evident to me is that Holder, a third round pick, is competing, learning and getting better. He may take a step back but he appears to be taking two steps forward in his progression. He certainly is amenable to coaching unlike the above listed “higher draft picks”?

        And like the GA Bulldog ace that he is he will never let go, he won’t give up, he isn’t afraid, he will keep hitting the strike zone and challenging hitters.

        He has definitely, unequivocally proven that he was not a wasted third round draft pick. A pick to avoid paying “third round slot” money.

        1. Competing, yes. Learning and getting better? No. I’d hardly call a declining K rate, rising BB rate, and the HR bugaboo coming back “progress.” Those 90 hits given up aren’t seeing-eye singles. Holder has given 16 doubles and six triples along with those 5 HRs for a OSLG of .449 and OBA of .304. It’d be tempting to attribute that to the defense, but many of those extra-base hits would be HRs elsewhere.

  6. In Syracuse the players Randy Knorr relies on starts with Jhonatan Solano. This 24 year old competent defensive catcher is batting a slash of .289/.344/.742 in 28 games 91 PA. He’s known for starting improbably rallies. He played some second base for Knorr when he put all three catchers in the lineup (Flores at DH) in order to get some offense. He’s why Maldonado is back on the DL. Compare with Flores who has compiled a .325/.371/.630 slash line in 46 games. Solano will do anything to help his manager win.

    Solano has 2 home runs and 3 doubles. Flores has 4 home runs and 11 doubles. Flores has only 5 walks in 170 at bats. Solano has 6 walks in 83 at bats.

    He is former catcher Knorr’s preferred catcher at this point. I believe Solano ends up as a major league backup catcher within a year. There would be a very good chance this would be with the Nats if Pudge were not still on the roster.

    I expect Solano will have a good second half. Flores not so much. Its possible he and Derek Norris could end up switching by the end of July.

    1. I will note that I used the triple slash of BA/OBP/SLG when comparing hitters; Your numbers look like BA/OBP/OPS, which can be a little misleading. Either way, neither Flores or Solano were producing at a level worthy of note, imo.

      1. Should be: .235/.371/.630 for Flores.

        I use the OPS since it incorporates the SLG.

        It is worth noting that attempts to turn Flores over to the Rays for Upton have less than an enthusiastic response.

        As far as Solano he currently projects as a better than average backup catcher. The guy is athletic enough to play second base and has in the winter leagues. When Randy Knorr writes those long reports that Riggleman and the FO read weekly you can be sure that Jhonatan Solano gets a number of rave reviews.

        Given that both Flores and Norris project as starters (either at catcher or somewhere else … and Flores is falling behind!) you need a competent backup. Pudge isn’t going to be there forever. Just last year they were using Will “Who”” Nieves. Remember him? This guy is a lot better than Nieves right now. So, I expect him to be on the big league roster sooner rather than later as Ramos is going to need a backup and someone to give him a blow. And the Nats prefer athletic players. Solano appears to fit the bill.

        1. Ooops again.

          Jesus Flores : .235/.260/.630 with a .371 SLG. That is extremely poor. Again, a Flores swap with Derrick Norris seems almost inevitable to rescue the Chiefs from a really dismal finish.

          At this point Norris is .221/.382/.851 with 6 doubles and 10 home runs. If his defense is improved enough I suspect he could end up in Syracuse with Solano. While Maldonado and Flores might be sent to Harrisburg. Clearly Norris has a knack for getting on base while working on raising his average. His defense could vastly improve under the auspices of Randy Knorr. He would get to manage games with the best starting pitchers in the Nats system short of the majors. It seems like a win-win proposition to me.

  7. In Syracuse the sudden drop in quality starting pitching has put them in a pretty deep hole. The only truly consistent mainstay starter remains Tom Milone at this point.

    Chris Marerro has a very long way to go. At least another year in AAA. Compare to a guy who ostensibly could be called one of the MVP’s of the Chief’s; Tug Hulett.

    Hulett 117AB : .282/.360/.778 18 doubles 2 home runs
    Marrerro 261AB: .284/.349/.779 14 doubles 8 home runs

    And Hulett has speed and can play a multiple positions at age 28. Marerro’s one
    big advantage is his youth. He’s 22. He can play 1 or even 2 more years in AAA to hone his skills. But he will always be a 1B/DH and nothing more. In any case close observation reveals that Rizzo won’t get much for Marerro at this point in his career. The problem is they do have Tyler Moore in Harrisburg who is an older prospect who might need to advance?

    The nice thing about the 2nd half for the Chiefs will be the really solid infield especially with Matt Antonelli, Steve Lombardozzi, and Tug Hulett. This looks to be some pretty solid depth for the big club as well. I don’t see any trades given the quad injury to Desmond, Cora’s age and Hairston’s lack of fielding ability at third and shortstop. Hairston looks to be more of a utility outfielder at this point. Not as bad as Willie Harris still …

    Hitting will benefit from Michael Aubrey, who is having a decent year and Jesus Valdez. There is hope that Corey Brown will stage another 2nd half come back as he did last year. Jeff Frazier is mired in a deep slump. Jhonatan Solano can be a clutch hitter. Jesus Valdez has proven to be a more than competent hitter at the AAA level.

    Pitching will remain basically the same with starters Maya, Milone, Meyers, Stammen, and Detwiler. Detwiler appears to be improving. JD Martin acts as long relief spot starter. The possibility of Bradley Peacock joining the rotation seems almost a foregone conclusion but who would he replace?

    Relief pitching has seen turnover with fireballer Hassan Pena taking up the closer’s duties. Another pitcher in the H-Rod, Elvin Ramirez mold. Mandel, Hyde, Severino, Tatusko and Wilkie fill out the rest. None have been anything to write home about and this might lead to a really poor finish by the Chiefs if it isn’t mitigated by Rizzo and the FO.

      1. Binm — I’m almost totally sure it was a shoulder issue, not an elbow.
        That means I’m sure but won’t put money on it. 🙂

    1. On the 60-day DL and unlikely to be heard from or seen before September at the earliest.

      1. Seems like a trade waiting to happen … unless the Mets want to play pitcher roulette like Rizzo does with TJ and shoulder surgery recipients? I just don’t see the new Mets management doing that with Ramirez. But I could be wrong.

  8. BinM — a belated kudos for your fine work, been busy. I think the second perspective from someone who eyeballs a lot of these players is very valuable.
    Hope you & Sue can keep this teamwork going throughout the year.

    1. I believe you were the one that asked for subscribing to replies. If not, I’ve installed a plug-in that’s supposed to make this a reality.

    2. Mark L: Again, thanks. Sue_D has been generous in giving me (and Souldrummer) a voice here, which I greatly appreciate. There are times that I wish I could contribute ‘eyes-on’ from a different location & add more to the overall discussion, but based on location, the P-nats are my primary focus.

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