It’s always interesting to me to do this piece and see what stories emerged from a given year. I look over the archives, letting chronology dictate a few of my choices, but by the end of the list it becomes thematic. Likewise, what begins as a list of names starts to morph into narratives, for which the name becomes emblematic (sorry, sometimes the rhyming thing just happens).
As I wrote after the (minor league) season’s end, the Nationals have reached a point where they can replace and reload on a regular basis, though it may not be quite the way folks want it to be. I’d explain further, but I think I’ve just written the segue for the first and last story of 2013…
The Re-Acquisition of A.J. Cole
Cole was dealt away in December 2011 in what was a shock then, but would become a shrug by the end of this year. For the casual fan, this was the trade of a favorite son (Mike Morse) for one GM Mike Rizzo’s former draft picks and a couple of roster-fillers. Instead, it was the classic value play as Morse suffered his worst year at the MLB level while Cole rebounded to match the hype, one of “other guys” started 20 games for AA Harrisburg, and the other made 32 appearances for the big club.
The Rule 5 Draft
What used to be an exercise in who the Nats would get has since changed to worry about who would be lost, despite the track record. Last year’s “losses” (Danny Rosenbaum and Jeff Kobernus) were returned this year in spring training, which is the smart money for the fate of this year’s draftee, Adrian Nieto, in March.
Anthony Rendon Comes To Town
Twice, actually. The first time was as an injury replacement for Ryan Zimmerman, who by the way, was the last Nats position player in recent memory to spend less than 80 games in the minors before making it to “The Show.” The second time was to effectively replace the ineffective Danny Espinosa, begging the question of whether that was the plan all along — even if both players entered 2013 with significant health questions (shoulder for Espinosa, ankles for Rendon).
A year ago, Jordan was a 23-y.o. who had yet to pitch above Low-A and one of several pitchers in the system that had had his UCL replaced. At best, he might replicate the 2012 season of Nathan Karns, who was drafted three rounds later in 2009. Instead, Jordan topped it, steamrolling the competition at High-A and AA with a line of 1.00/2.25/0.92 in 90⅓ innings and leapfrogging Karns as the proverbial #6 starter with a callup at the end of June.
About the only award that escaped the pint-sized speedster was the Player of the Week as the 74-steal man garnered nods for midseason and postseason All-Star teams in the Carolina League and the Nationals Player of the Year award. The switch-hitting outfielder still led the Carolina League in steals despite only playing in 91 games. Alas, for all his accolades, he was traded to Oakland along with…
While he may have only been 20 during his disastrous 2012 season, the turnaround Ray made in 2013 was nevertheless impressive. He cut his ERA from 6.56 to 3.36, his WHIP from 1.62 to 1.25 and increased his K rate from 7.3 to 10.1. The walks and HRs weren’t lowered as sharply (only slightly), which is something his fans will have to watch for in 2014.
The GCL Nationals
Maybe they were simply beating on three weaklings over and over again, but the G-Nats set the standard for dominance that will be used as a measuring stick for the Gulf Coast League for years to come. More important is the inference that the Nats pipeline from the Dominican has recovered, if not improved, from the depths of the 2009 scandal that led to the ouster of the previous GM.
This was the year when the hype matched the production for Michael Taylor and Steve Souza Jr., just in time for both men to be added to the 40-man roster. Brian Goodwin held his own at AA, a year after skipping High-A, which gave the Nats enough depth to part with Burns and still have four OFs in the upper minors aged 24 or younger. It may be the only part of the farm where there is true depth, which if any beat writers are reading, includes catcher.
On the field, the Suns made the playoffs for the second straight season by the thinnest margin possible — a 1/2 game, thanks to three cancellations. While they shorted the West Virginia Power by taking two of three in the semifinals, they were swept away in the Finals. Off the field, the franchise continued to suffer attendance losses as folks seem to be fed up with the constant threat of leaving while also campaigning for a new facility. Given that MiLB has yet to issue a waiver to allow a team to play in temporary facility, Fredericksburg may miss the boat, allowing for a third city to make a move.
Potomac Bats Go Dead In The Finals
Perhaps that’s not giving either the Hillcats or the Red Sox pitchers enough credit, but it left a sour taste in the mouths of fans (*ahem*) who watched the team obliterate the Carolina League during the regular season. Indeed, they would set franchise records for wins and attendance while winning both halves handily. They had the league’s best pitching and second-best offense, which was built upon on speed but not overly reliant on the longball, walks, or avoiding strikeouts.
Harrisburg Makes The Eastern League Finals
After making a similar run in the summer of 2011, the 2013 Senators made it past the first hurdle with a 3-1 semifinals win against the Seawolves but like the P-Nats and Suns, ran into a buzzsaw in the finals. Developmentally, the team was a resounding winner — sending Rendon, Jordan, and Krol up to D.C. to stay while further polishing Karns, Aaron Barrett, Goodwin, and Souza.
After conservative promotions in 2010 and 2011, 2013 continued the 2012 trend of more aggressive promotions, particularly the pitchers between High-A and AA as 4/5ths of the P-Nats April rotation were given the bump. No doubt some of this was by design with the activation of two pitchers (Sammy Solis and Matt Purke) who were coming off surgery. But it’s enough to no longer summarily dismiss the idea of someone moving up sooner rather than later.
Jokes about A’s aside, GM Mike Rizzo has no qualms about trading to get the players he wants (Fister, Blevins) or recoup value on players he doesn’t intend to keep (Morse, DeJesus). As alluded earlier, A.J. Cole has been involved in both types of trades, which serves as a reminder that the notion of any player being the next X in Washington is far from certain. Even though this has been true for quite some time, I get the sense that many folks still aren’t used to it.