Eleven From ’11

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…

The Rain
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.”

Bryce Harper
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

Stephen Strasburg
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.

Steve Lombardozzi
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.

Danny Rosenbaum
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.

Destin Hood
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.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of NationalsProspects.com. 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.

17 thoughts on “Eleven From ’11”

  1. This gives a very good state of the Nats farm system in just a few paragraphs. Definitely worth quoting. Nicely done.

  2. Sue – spot on analysis, especially the three trades.
    When I read your Harper summary, it struck me that you could have swapped names and used it in its entirety for Strasburg. Talk about a guy who has met and exceeded expectations. Most guys would kill for his stats in his rehab stint this September.
    I’d lost sight of it with the recent activity, but a full season from him is probably the most exciting thing about 2012.

  3. Uh, when I said ‘in its entirety’, that was code for ‘just that one sentence about exceeding expectations’

  4. Tyler Moore continues to be really intriguing to me, although he shows up in nobody’s top 10. I guess he would have to be in BA’s top 30. There is a real problem being a 1st baseman, and nothing else, but he moves up with regularity, and pounds HRs. He never appears in trade rumors.

    What happens next? Is there a reason that he is behind Chris Marrero in the depth chart, after Marrero came up and showed no power at all? Does he go to Syracuse while Marrero heals? What if he has 15 HRs during the first half, and doesn’t play any worse than Marrero at first?

    I hope dearly that the Nats get Fielder, and eat what they need to of Adam LaRoche’s contract. That isn’t anything against LaRoche in the least- I bet he has a decent year in 2012. Still, regardless of whether either plays for the Nats, I still am confused about the relative ranking of Moore and Marrero. Please inform.

    1. Marrero=First round pick
      Moore=came out of nowhere

      FYI I have Moore higher on my nats top 50 prospects. The 4 added as a result of the Gio trade where Graham, Arnesen, Applebee, and VanAllen

      1. Bryce Harper
      2. Anthony Rendon
      3. Matt Purke
      4. Robbie Ray
      5. Alex Meyer
      6. Destin Hood
      7. Brian Goodwin
      8. Sammy Solis
      9. Steve Lombardozzi
      10. Michael Taylor
      11. Tyler Moore
      12. Chris Marrero
      13. David Freitas
      14. Eury Perez
      15. Kevin Keyes
      16. Wirkin Estevez
      17. Jeff Kobernus
      18. Danny Rosenbaum
      19. Matt Skole
      20. Rafael Martin
      21. Zach Walters
      22. Blake Kelso
      23. Rick Hague
      24. Jason Martinson
      25. Randolph Oduber
      26. Pat Lehman
      27. Kylin Turnbull
      28. Justin Bloxom
      29. Taylor Jordan(this was before I found out he needed TJ)
      30. Sandy Leon
      31. Cole Kimball
      32. Atahualpa Severino
      33. Hector Nelo
      34. Josh Smoker
      35. Paul Demny
      36. Adrian Sanchez
      37. Taylor Hill
      38. Brian Dupra
      39. Christian Garcia
      40. Marcos Frias
      41. Jeff Mandel
      42. Joe Testa
      43. Neil Holland
      44. Matt Swynenberg
      45. Ben Grisz
      46. Zech Zinicola
      47. Erik Arnesen
      48. Cory VanAllen
      49. Ben Graham
      50. Paul Applebee

      1. Wow, that’s hard work, coming up with a Nats Top 50.
        Didn’t want to let Jeff’s hard work go unapreciated.

    2. Moore is 18 months older than Marrero, is roughly the same caliber of fielder, and hasn’t proven himself at the AAA level. He doesn’t walk much and strikes out a ton. There’s no question Moore has more power, but there are serious doubts that he’ll be able to hit enough to justify the outs he’ll make.

      I realize Moore silenced a lot of doubters in ’11, but time is running out for him (he turns 25 next month). Marrero’s injury is an opportunity for him, but not necessarily for the organization. It wouldn’t surprise at all in the scenario you suggest that Moore simply slides into the DH slot for Syracuse once Marrero is healthy.

    3. + 1/2 St: Marrero was a 1st-round pick out of HS in ’06 who had a nice power stroke early in his career. A devistating leg injury in ’08 set him back a bit developmentally. He still has gap power, and at 22 (this season) could still become a reliable 15-20 HR kind of hitter.
      Moore was drafted in 2008 (16th rd), has shown the power from the get-go, but turns 25 before spring training starts. The Nationals still have enough faith in him to have placed him on the 40-man, so he’s got that going for him. My understanding was that he was getting some reps in RF in the ’11 Instructionals – Let’s see if that carries forward this spring.
      Short answer – Marrero has youth & some 1st round pick cache’ left.

  5. I will say this about Hood – This year, he looked like a ballplayer all year long, instead of an athletic kid in a baseball uniform. Still has some problems reading the bat off the ball in the OF, but showed improvement over 2010, imo.

  6. Sue, I’m going to add to the many plaudits coming your way here for this excellent analysis.
    Regarding the trades —
    1) I think A.J Morris was the ‘get’ for the Cubs, but no one knew at the time he was hurt. Too bad for him. I agree with you 100% on Burgess.
    2)When Davey Johnson started to complain to Rizzo about the bench, this knucklehead move to acquire Gomes is what happened. I think if Rizzo is totally honest, he would say, Sue, that you were right in how he justified this trade to himself. Turns out, Gomes was so bad, he wasn’t even good enough to be a Type B. Giving up a young unhittable closer and a guy hitting over .900 OPS at AA for this?
    3) Sue, you were dead-on about the first 2 being for seamheads only, I won’t repeat myself ad-nauseum about this one. Ugh.

    Great point about the rains being a major story in 2011. What happens at the Pfitz in 2012 is an unknown & can Harrisburg fix that spectacular stadium of theirs in time for April. A continuing story.

    As for me, I look forward to 2012 being the first year in three that I’m healthy enough to travel to see all these young studs. I’m most looking forward to seeing Destin Hood & Rosenbaum in Harrisburg & Michael Taylor in Potomac. The Hagerstown stories play out a little later and as TBRFan has pointed out, it’s the most baseball pure experience around. Look forward to all of it.

    The only question…….what are we going to do in January?

    1. Syracuse and Auburn are worth the drive, too. Relatively new facilities (built in the mid-90s) and the food was good in both places. Auburn is a particularly good place because they never let the promotions overtake the baseball. It’s an older crowd and they cater to them accordingly. Both there and Jamestown reminded me very much of the Appy League in that respect.

      1. Sue, that reminds me, did you see where the Mets dropped their team in the GCL, but kept their team in the Appalachain League?

        1. Yes, I did. I’m glad for the Appy League, but it’s a little mystifying — the move saves the Mets about $1M. It’ll wreak a little bit of havoc on the GCL in terms of scheduling for the near-term (best guess: the GCL East will drop to four teams, the North and South will even up at five teams) but the long-term effect could force one or two teams into Arizona — which has been a wishlist item to eliminate split-squad games in ST– and kill Florida baseball on the Atlantic Coast.

          The Red Sox will be moving into some new digs this spring, and speculation is rampant as to which teams will move into the “old” facility (City of Palm Parks, built in 1992). The loss of the Mets in the GCL will put the most pressure on the Marlins and Cardinals, since Port St. Lucie was the shortest road trip for them and now the shortest trip for them is to Viera (~2 hrs by bus). The Mets were already rumored to be looking to share the facility in PSL, now they’ll likely be looking to share with someone further inland.

          Meanwhile, the Nationals have been annually making demands for facility upgrades for Space Coast Stadium (built in 1993) and are also looking to move towards the Gulf Coast. They, too, may decide to share with another team, though in this rare case, the Lerners’ wealth may be pointed to and the question asked: “Might you know a thing or two about how to build functional facilities and turn a decent profit?” In all seriousness, I can’t think of a place where everything — land, labor, materials — is ever going to be cheaper than it is right now.

  7. One story to watch for next year is how the Potomac indielf shapes up. Right now you have Souza, Sanchez, Kelso, Martinson, Walters, Hague, and Rendon all fighting for 4 infield spots at Potomac. Walters could move up to AA, but I dont see it

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