It’s been a few years since I did a post like this, but with things slower than Manny Machado racing Manny Ramirez, I figured I’d bring this back to keep the site going.
Admittedly, there is a Potomac bias here – it’s home base for this site (for one more season) and was one of just three affiliates with a winning record. It’s usually an interesting level anyways because this is where the reality check is cashed… or bounced. It also seems to be the level most likely to be repeated by players, thanks in no small part to the organization’s preference for using six-year FAs to plug the gaps at AA and AAA, which have been legion for several seasons now.
They’re not ranked, they’re just the 10 things that I felt defined this past season. Enjoy them at your leisure (or peril):
VICTOR ROBLES GETS HURT
Nats make a trade with the A’s. Sun rises in the East. After finally having a season in which he avoided a prolonged trip to the DL in 2017, Robles more than made up for it by missing nearly three months in 2018, delaying his long-waited ascent to DC for good until 2019. But there was a silver lining…
It may not have been this awesome, but Soto’s rise from Hagerstown to Washington was pretty damn good. It was obvious from the first at-bat to his last game at Potomac that he wasn’t long for this level, but with Robles out, and the (usual array of) injuries to the parent club, the Nats called on him less than two weeks later and he stayed.
SO LONG, SYRACUSE (AND POTOMAC)
We knew 2018 would be the final one for the Chiefs since the Mets bought the affiliate in October 2017. But one would have thought the extra few months of time to prepare for the 2018 PDC renewals would have prevented the worst possible outcome. Potomac had been threatening to leave since the mid-90’s and finally found the greater fool in Fredericksburg, which will make 2019 the final one for the Potomac Nationals, though they have the option of playing in Woodbridge in 2020 if something goes wrong.
AUBURN RETURNS TO PLAYOFFS
While it was a quick visit, it was the first playoff appearance for the Doubledays since 2012, as they had finished below .500 for five straight seasons, which is a particularly difficult thing to do given the organization’s proclivity for drafting college seniors.
Since becoming a Washington affiliate in 2005, one thing had escaped the P-Nats: a no-hitter. Well, for them – there’d been a couple against them. The 25-y.o. journeyman walked three and struck out three and unlike your usual no-no’s, there weren’t any spectacular plays on defense. But as an O.G. late in the season and with a 7-0 lead, he was allowed to finish and throw 110 pitches to do it.
POTOMAC LOSES ONE-GAME MILLS CUP
In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been so surprising that the Carolina League opted for a coin flip rather than declare co-champions or (*gasp*) play the series at a neutral site. After all, they had suspended a game after the P-Nats had taken a 4-0 lead after five-plus innings. Instead, they reduced a 140-game season to just one, which the Buies Creek Astros won, 2-1 in 11 innings in front of dozens of fans.
As written in the previous post, the younger Kieboom brother was also an emergence in 2018. Like Soto, he’d been injured in 2017 and was a question mark for 2018. Unlike Soto, the Nats moved Kieboom up from Low-A and for about a month, it had looked like a Bowden-esque decision. Then Kieboom caught fire, posting OPS’s of 1.034 and 1.022 in May and June to earn an All-Star berth in the Carolina League, a promotion to the Eastern League, and ultimately the 2018 Player of the Year. While he hit the wall in AA (.721), he returned to action in the AFL to post a .799 OPS in October and November, albeit against pitching not quite as good as what he saw in July and August.
Despite multiple warning signs, the Nats gambled on Seth Romero in the 2017 Draft and he rewarded them with prolonged stretches of inactivity, curfew violations, ultimately, Tommy John surgery. He may only pitch in the AFL in 2019, assuming he’s able to complete the physical therapy and put in the work, both of which require maturity and dedication – two characteristics he has yet to demonstrate.
KYLE MCGOWIN/AUSTEN WILLIAMS
McGowin had been lingering in AA for parts of three seasons when the Nats acquired him in the late 2016 Danny Espinosa trade and did little to dissuade the initial prognosis as a roster-filler in 2017 (3-12, 5.95 in A+/AA/AAA). But an improved slider got him out of AA and an impressive run of 1.20/2.92/0.66 pitching across eight starts in AAA earned him a 40-man spot and September call-up. It’s a similar story for Williams, who was entering his third season at Harrisburg and benefited from a shift to the ‘pen and using his two best pitches. While neither were impressive in The Show, it’s that they got there that’s the story.
Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins, and Daniel Johnson were among the prospects traded away, along with recent graduates Jefry Rodriguez and Brian Goodwin as part of what seems to be an ongoing effort to trade away assets to get that one last piece for the big club. Thus far, it feels like the return has been like a pawn shop, but because GM Mike Rizzo has a reputation for finding underrated players, there’s always the hope/belief that one of these guys that come back in these trades will be next.