First Impressions

First Impressions for NPP
It’s probably not as many games to go on as I’d like (thanks to rainouts and personal obligations), but it’s mid-May and we’re at the quarter pole, so here goes with the annual “first take” on the guys at Potomac.

Having grown up in New England during the 1970s and 1980s, I’m more than familiar with teams that can hit but can’t quite pitch with any consistency. The 2014 P-Nats are just such a team.

Of course, they’re in first place, but the last series with Myrtle Beach is indicative of what awaits in the playoffs if things stay the same. It’s easy to get complacent (as a fan) and assume that the reinforcements from Hagerstown, of which there have already been a few, will come up and dominate here the way they have there.

Last night’s starting pitcher is a case in point. As noted in the comments, Brett Mooneyham has still not adjusted to the level and may need to catch the Hellenic Flu to recover.

Without further vamping, here are my takes, position-by-position…

Kevin Keyes has come and gone, having finally made it to AA after spending parts of three seasons in Potomac. Shawn Pleffner is a step down on offense thus far, but a step up on defense. He’s a true first baseman, which the P-Nats haven’t had in quite some time and with his big frame, he’s already saved a few errors.

Tony Renda appeared in just three games that I saw before he went down with injury. I have to pass on saying more until I can see more of him on a regular basis. Khayyan Norfork has been adequate in his absence, nowhere near the offensive force but as good or better on defense — roughly what you’d expect from a 25-y.o. veteran.

Maybe it’s my fault for not playing him more in the writeups (though I’ve featured him in the GBI), but Stephen Perez gets a lot less mention outside this site for a shortstop hitting .316 with a some pop (.427) than you’d think. Defensively, I see a lot of Ian Desmond in terms of athleticism and errors, but it doesn’t have the same “makes the really hard plays look easy, botches the really easy plays” that made Desmond so maddening. Still, he’s been hitting and fielding far better than anyone could have reasonably expected based on what he showed last year in Hagerstown.

I know what you’re thinking: Who cares? Drew Ward will be here soon. Well, it’s never as soon as the comment campaigners want and Ward may actually be held down until the glove is ready, not the bat. Adrian Sanchez and Oscar Tejeda have been splitting the position, and on defense, it’s not even close: Sanchez, who I wrote last year was miscast as a 2B, has found his spot as a 3B (Tejeda is hit-first MI). Sanchez has since been pushed up to Harrisburg, but time will tell if that’s a permanent move or not, but he went on a tear after starting the season 2-for-45. Tejeda, 15 months older, is exactly what you’d expect out of a AA guy at High-A: a .300+ hitter here, .250-something hitter there.

It’s not his best positions, but Randolph Oduber has played in LF and CF the most among the group of OFs. You get the sense that he’d prefer to be in RF, where he’s played the most, as he’s looked uncomfortable at times in LF, especially going to his left. Offensively, The Groovin’ Aruban has lived up to the nickname this month, hitting the ball hard to all fields.

Besides Oduber, Mike McQuillan and Will Piwnica-Worms have played LF and CF the most, respectively. However, neither player could be truly considered an everyday player. I get the sense that the organization would be happier if Narciso Mesa could establish himself in CF, but he’s looked overmatched in the few times I’ve seen him.

Brandon Miller has played here everyday and it’s pretty clear that that’s where the Nats want him. Defensively, he’s adequate — makes the routine plays, has a good enough arm, etc. Offensively, he’s been all-or-nothing (46Ks, 10HR in 34G) but has been taking enough walks (19) to offset his low average (.163). It’s disturbing to see so few doubles from a guy with his power, never mind the K rate that has increased from last season.

Longtime readers have known about Pedro Severino‘s arm and defense before the rest of the prospect world seemed to have stumbled on it this past offseason. And it almost seems like he’s hell-bent in living up to that hype, which seems to be leading
to an inordinate number of errors, passed balls, errant throws, etc. The offense has also fallen off, but that’s far less of a surprise, given that his hitting has always been in question. Cole Leonida remains a quite capable backup with decent pop, enough that you’d not mind him DHing a couple of times a week.

Manager Tripp Keister has been getting these guys a fair amount of playing time, as you might have inferred from the remarks on Leonida, McQuillan and Piwinca-Worms. Except for Leonida, none of them have been exceptionally good on offense, nor have any of them been exceptionally bad, either. They are what they are: 24-25-y.o. veterans that can come off the bench and contribute.

Ronald Pena — The mid-90s heat hasn’t really shown itself, but the thing that strikes me the most (until obviously this last start) is how few strikeouts he’s been getting for a power pitcher. He is relatively young (23 in Sept.), big, and strong so I have a feeling he’s going to keep starting, though he did pitch in relief a fair amount last year in Hagerstown.

Brett Mooneyham — He’s tall, lefthanded and can hit 90 on the gun. The problem is that he can’t seem to locate his pitches for a strike without them getting hit. Hard. This is not new, either. He walked 13 in 11⅓ innings last year; he’s walked 28 in 26⅔ innings this year. If I knew how to fix it, I’d be employed as a coach. But it seems clear that after 10 starts at this level, Mooneyham is not a High-A starting pitcher.

Dakota Bacus, Ian Dickson — I’ve liked what I’ve seen but it’s only been one or two starts and couple of relief outings for both pitchers. Bacus doesn’t throw terribly hard but changes speeds well and has a decent curve. Dickson throws a little harder, but that could also be a byproduct of a good changeup.

Nick Lee, Brian Rauh, Pedro Encarnacion, John Simms — The first three were hurt, Simms I’ve only seen once. Injuries have hit the P-Nats fairly hard as eight pitchers have started two or more games so far this season.

For the most part, the relief corps has been very, very good. Last Friday’s meltdown obviously lingers in the air, but I’m not keeping a spreadsheet this year (like I did last year) to track blown saves, either. Collectively, the top five (in terms of appearances) of Robert Benincasa, Gilberto Mendez, Travis Henke, Derek Self, and Bryan Harper are 7-1 with nine saves, five holds, an ERA of 3.18, an FIP of 2.60, and a WHIP of 1.17. That’s really hard to complain about, especially when they’ve mostly had to work with very little margin for error. Maybe that’s what happened last Friday?

Anyway, as we’ve done the past few years, we’ll check back in a few weeks and revisit these impressions.

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.

5 thoughts on “First Impressions”

  1. Luke. Even dating back to the expos
    Stanford product seems to just fall apart in minors:
    Expos found out with Stan spencer and
    Jeff Loria bonus baby whose name escapes me.
    Plus Brad Fullmer signed away from Stanford ended up a weak
    1b with leather. True he played with angels
    But may be best remembered for breaking jim
    Tracy jaw with a BP batting swing around cage

    1. While I agree with your general sentiment, Mike Mussina, Rick Helling, Jack McDowell, Jeremy Guthrie, and our own Drew Storen would disagree with your estimation of Stanford grads.

      However, the fact that Storen has the 11th most IP of all Stanford graduates ever says a lot.

  2. I agree that the 1/4 pole is a perfect time for first impressions.
    Thanks for the reminder on Perez, his numbers are impressive.
    Waiting & hoping for Severino to come around.

  3. Numbers are frequently misleading, but in the case of Perez, they don’t tell the whole story. Ths guy has been by far the best and most consistent player on the team so far. Stress the consistency. He deserves a lot more credit than the scouts have given him.

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