We’re at the end of Year Two of NationalsProspects.com; time for the obligatory “Year In Review” piece.
Oh, I know that sounds curt and cynical. News slows down during the holidays, but it doesn’t stop. So these kinds of pieces are trotted out to fill the void.
Looking over the storylines that I decided to revisit, there does seems to be a theme of transition. The minors are still a source of hope, but it’s a different kind of hope. As the depth of the system has improved, the eggs aren’t all in one basket anymore.
Sure, we used to think that in the abstract with certain players — Chris Marrero especially and in particular — but as we saw last week, it’s become apparent that tagging a prospect as the next X in Washington is no longer a given.
(Before you say “Bryce Harper,” consider that he might end up in left field rather than right field.
What?! I’m just sayin’…)
Of course, that won’t stop anyone from trying. People will still get attached to certain players, hoping they make The Show in DC, but now the farm has improved to the point where it can produce players for both the long-term (replacements) and the short-term (trade bait).
This, I think, is progress — much the way we’re seeing a whole lot less of the Natmosphere praising players for their production (e.g. Tyler Clippard) rather than their personality (e.g. Chad Cordero).
So without further ado, let’s delve into the 11 stories to remember from 2011…
Every year I ask for a drought that lasts roughly five-and-a-half months: second week of April to third week of September*. It would be one thing if I were merely referring to the poor drainage at the Pfitz, but this also includes the flooding at Metro Bank Park, and fallen light tower at Hagerstown. The four full-season affiliates averaged nearly a dozen rainouts apiece, the three short-season teams averaged nearly a half-dozen postponements each.
*Maybe I got too spoiled by my time in the Pacific Northwest, where there are two seasons — Rain (Oct-Apr) and Not Rain (May-Sep)
The Gorzelanny Trade
Eleven months later, and with the benefit of hindsight, this trade doesn’t look nearly so bad. Prior to this, however, most of the Rizzo trades were of the MLB for prospects instead of vice-versa. I liked the trade immediately, in part because it affirmed what I had long suspected: Michael Burgess was never going to figure it out (2011 saw him revert to the mean, posting a .225/.323/.427 line in his third A+ season).
The Jonny Gomes Trade
This one, however, still stings. Unlike the Gorzelanny trade, even Stevie Wonder could see this was a short-sighted trade designed to snag a sandwich pick. Thankfully, the new CBA will make this debacle less likely to recur. Maybe we’ll be proven wrong on this eventually, but watching a hard-throwing, left-handed strikeout machine (Chris Manno) move up a level and into a hitter’s league and still mow ’em down was not fun, especially when the system is sorely lacking age-appropriate left-handed relief prospects.
The Gio Gonzalez Trade
Unlike the previous two trades, this trade got the attention of more than just the seamheads. The initial reaction was mostly sour, but I think a lot of that is simply that the trade involved four names that casual fans would know (imagine if it had been Demny/Rosenbaum/Freitas/Estevez) because all were in the most recent Top 10. I think Mark Zuckerman’s effort today expands/riffs on what I wrote in the comments to my story on the trade: “You can count me among the folks that feel a little disheartened that the farm has been weakened, but at the same time the parent club has been strengthened. Sometimes we need a little reminding that that’s *always* the endgame.”
There’s not much left that hasn’t been written about Harper. I think I’ve been fairly consistent in my ambivalence because I am professionally trained to be cynical and will instinctually gravitate towards the contrarian position to the hyperbole that has surrounded him since he was put on the cover of SI as a 16-year-old. But it’s also true that he’s met those expectations and impressed nearly every prospect guru along the way (yes, even Keith Law). Maybe the Nats will shock us and put Harper on the Opening Day roster, much like the Braves did with Jason Heyward in 2010. Maybe they’ll decide he needs to work on his fielding at Syracuse. But he will undoubtedly dominate Spring Training 2012’s headlines
We knew he was just visiting the minors in 2010. But in 2011, the road back from Tommy John surgery gave the 2009 #1 overall draft pick a six-game tour through the full-season minors. Three of those came in Hagerstown. And on a hot August night Brother Strasburg’s Travelling Salvation Show came to Woodbridge. Ordinarily, rehab starts are wildly overrated. But this was the exception, as the 23-year-old took just 33 pitches to retire 12 batters. No batted ball left the infield in fair territory.
For the second time in two seasons, a middle infielder made his way from AA to the majors, as Steve Lombardozzi went from Harrisburg to Syracuse to Washington. While the odds of him making the 2012 lineup are slimmer than his predecessor, Danny Espinosa, it was still fun to watch and track from afar one season removed from seeing him day-in and day-out. As we head in 2012, the question is whether or not Lombardozzi is asked to man the bench or be sent to Syracuse to wait.
Sammy Solis gets the press, but Rosenbaum simply produces: 171⅓ innings over 26 games, 25 of them starts. That’s nearly six and two-thirds innings every time out. The 24-year-old has been constantly compared to Tom Milone**, which is a double-edged sword like any comparison because it frequently assumes too much. Rosenbaum doesn’t have pinpoint control. But he can break a pane of glass, throwing in the low-90s. That jump in speed from 2010 (high-80s) to 2011 seemed come at the cost of his control and seemed like most of his time at 2011 was spent regaining it. But you’d never have known it if you simply followed the box scores. He has that rare knack of being able to get guys out without having all his pitches working. Now what remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be the 2012 version of Brad Peacock**.
**I purposely decided not to include Milone and Peacock in the “11” because I wanted this piece to still be as forward-looking as possible.
Earlier, I’d referenced Michael Burgess, a “toolsy outfielder” that sputtered. Destin Hood may be that rare bird that doesn’t. Going into 2011, there was a low level of frustration: When he is ever going to tap that raw talent and turn it into skill? Well, this was the year. He nearly doubled his walk total (33 to 58), nearly tripled his HR total (5 to 13), and despite some knee troubles, swipe some bases (5 to 21). He’ll turn 22 just before the 2012 season, so the expectation that he can make another quantum leap will be there, fair or not.
Auburn Goes To The NYPL Finals
A year after watching the short-season A Vermont Lake Monsters start strong, then fade late had to lead some to wonder if history would repeat in ’11. It didn’t, as they managed to mash their way into the finals, leading the league in runs scored, hits, doubles, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. It’s probably true that a lot of this is attributable to the Nats’ tendency to draft college seniors, but it made for a fun pennant race to cover in August as part of the daily “News & Notes.”
Potomac Rallies To Make The Playoffs
After a 29-40 first half — the worst in recent memory — the idea of a second straight second-half surge seemed far-fetched. But that’s exactly what happened. Unlike 2010, there was no Tyler Moore having a monster half-season, or Hagerstown sending up its top two pitchers. It was the more traditional, stabilize the pitching (veteran reliever into the rotation) and improve the offense just a little, enough to stop losing 5-4 and start winning 4-3. Sure, it ended with a playoff exit instead of a Mills Cup hoisting, but it was quite an unexpected turn of events.