The State of the Nationals Farm

State of the Nationals
So here we are, a day removed from the last of three playoff teams to lose in their league championship series. Two of them were swept, the third may as well have been — limited to two runs in three losses after winning the first game. A fourth playoff team, which only garnered notice outside of our little bubble when they approached (and surpassed) the record for the winning percentage by a domestic-based* minor-league team, won the whole frickin’ thing.
* Am I the only one that finds that qualifier offensive? Sure, there’s lots of corruption in the D.R., but less than in the N.C.A.A.

A year ago, when I wrote the inaugural version of this column, I wondered what “Phase Two” would mean in terms of the minors…

There’s a lot of talk about Washington entering Phase Two, which really applies to the parent club more than the minors, in my opinion. I tend to look at the minors progression like this:

1) Go all-in on H.S. picks, start to clear out the system that had been put on autopilot in 2002
2) First-round picks are used to get “generational talents,” college picks are used heavily to fortify the ranks
3) Spend heavily on the final draft before the new CBA kicks in, cash in on some of the returns of #1 and #2 for a SP
4) ???

…and I think the answer is “Replace/Reload Mode.” In other words, I think the Nationals have gotten to where they’re supposed to be: drafting and developing players independent of current need.

The success of the GCL — which I’d like to say I predicted with the line “if the Nationals can continue their post-Smiley success with the likes of Wander Ramos and Estarlin Martinez” but I don’t work for ESPN — is one reason for that optimism. Signing eight high school and JuCo picks out of eighteen draft picks is another (an obligatory H/T to “Springfield Fan,” who maintains the Draft Tracker that makes citing these numbers easy). Having them succeed, especially the trio of Jake Johansen, Austin Voth, and Nick Pivetta — SPs that pitched at multiple levels — is yet another reason (for a statistical rundown of how the Draft Class of ’13 did, visit this post by Todd Boss).

As I write this, the “Big Nats” are coming off their latest disappointing loss — remember that column questioning whether Davey Johnson’s “World Series or Bust” proclamation for 2013 was perhaps ill-advised after clearly overachieving in 2012? Me neither — but they’ve made a run lately with replacements that were developed and/or acquired in the last four seasons. Tanner Roark is the latest hero to the Natmosphere at large, but he’s old news to the folks here. Ian Krol came up what turned out to be mostly for good, save for a procedural demotion in August, along with Anthony Rendon’s second callup to DC in early June. Unfortunately, we barely knew him, having been largely considered a throw-in as the PTBNL in the Michael Morse trade.

Rendon, of course, became the replacement for Danny Espinosa, which is an unfortunate turn of events that I can’t summarize much better than this. Taylor Jordan shocked all of us by going from Potomac to DC, which earned him the honor of the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Rendon, Krol and Taylor are this year’s most notable graduates from the farm. Some kid named Bryce Harper headlined the 2012 class. Espinosa and Wilson Ramos were the 2011 grads. Ian Desmond and Stephen Strasburg, got the nods in 2010.

That’s what’s meant by “replace/reload.” There are others in that sequence of events — Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi, Chris Marrero, Roger Bernadina, Drew Storen off the top of my head; researching rookie status is not easy — which you can see are mostly bench players or relievers. But that’s okay. One of the purposes of the farm is to develop players that can be plugged in when and where they’re needed. Or in some cases, provide a place for them to play until they’re needed, like Tanner Roark, Ross Ohlendorf, and Xavier “Nah, I’ll Just Take A Carry On” Cedeno.

And with that, I close the book on the 2013 regular season and perhaps enjoy a short break from the grind. I’ll begin work on analyzing the Instructional League Rosters this week and pass along minors-related news as time permits until the AFL starts up in early October, which is also when I hope to start publishing the affiliate season reviews.

Hagerstown Falls To Savannah In Sally League Finals

The Sand Gnats pitchers stifled the Suns for a second straight night, shutting them out 2-0 to take the South Atlantic League Championship, three games to one.

Hagerstown actually outhit Savannah 6-2, but the difference was the walks. Losing pitcher Dakota Bacus gave up three in the space of four batters in the Savannah 4th to load the bases, then Savannah’s Stefan Sabol doubled to left to score the game’s only runs.

Bacus would finish with a line of two runs on two hits and three walks over four innings while striking out four. Ronald Pena followed him on the mound and delivered four perfect innings of relief: 12 up, 12 down with one strikeout.

Hagerstown’s best threat came in the third as Stephen Perez led off with a single to left and two infield hits loaded the bases with nobody out. Sand Gnat starter Stephen Matz escaped the jam by striking out Shawn Pleffner and “Help Me” Wander Ramos and inducing a popup from Mike McQuillan. The Suns 3-4-5 hitters would combine to go 0-for-11 with one walk and nine strikeouts.

Despite the Pena lockdown, Hagerstown would not get another runner into scoring position until the 9th, when Estarlin Martinez pinch-hitter Bryan Lippincott doubled with one out. The 21-y.o. outfielder 23-y.o. infielder would go no farther as Khayyan Norfork became the 13th Sun to whiff for the second out and Pedro Severino popped out in foul territory to end the game.

Savannah’s title is its first as an affiliate of the New York Mets. The Sand Gnats previous title was in 1996. Hagerstown has never won a championship since it joined the Sally League in 1993.

Burns, Jordan, Renda Named Nats’ Minors Players of the Year

The Washington Nationals have announced that Billy Burns and Taylor Jordan have been named the organization’s 2013 Player and Pitcher of the Year while Tony Renda will be the inaugural Bob Boone Award winner.

Burns and Jordan were teammates in Potomac for about a month before the latter began his unexpected and meteoric rise from High-A in April to the Majors in July. Burns was promoted in August and was a key cog in the Senators run to the Eastern League Finals that ended last night. Renda has been a stalwart in the Hagerstown Suns lineup, playing in 135 of 137 games in the regular season and all six in the postseason thus far.

Burns, who turned 24 in late August, was an All-Star for Potomac in both the midseason game in San Jose and the postseason all-league team. He hung a combined line of .315/.425/.383 in 121 games between High-A and AA with a whopping 74 steals in 81 attempts. Burns was originally drafted by the Braves coming out of high school in Marietta, GA but the diminutive speedster opted for college and played 154 games with Mercer University. He signed with the Nats after being drafted in the 32nd round in 2011, playing sparingly for Auburn before moving up to Hagerstown in 2012.

Burns broke out in 2012, returning to switch hitting after abandoning it in college, and hit .322 with “only” 38 steals in 113 games. If there’s a knock on Burns it’s that he’s a “slash and burn” type hitter that often gets caught on his front foot (H/T to Zach Mortimer) which could be troublesome because he has very little power to begin with.

Jordan came into 2012 as a question mark. He had his 2011 season cut short by Tommy John surgery and didn’t exactly light a fire in 2012, going 3-7 with a 5.13 ERA in 15 starts between Auburn and Hagerstown. Still, the first season back from TJ is generally considered a success simply if a player doesn’t reinjure himself and given his relative youth (24) and the promise he showed in 2011, he became part of this site’s M*A*S*H unit for the 2013 watchlist.

Instead, Jordan blew through two levels of the minors — going 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA win six starts for A+ Potomac, then 7-0 with an 0.83 ERA in nine appearances (eight starts) for AA Harrisburg. After comically trying to pretend they weren’t, the Nats recalled Jordan on the last day in June. Jordan then went 1-3 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts for the “Big Nats,” becoming one of two four farmhands to graduate (Anthony Rendon, Ian Krol, and Chris Marrero were the others).

Finally, the Nats have created a new honor — The Bob Boone Award, which goes to the player “who best demonstrates professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, makeup, intangibles and a tremendous work ethic.” No word on the requisite of “grit.”

As aforementioned, that honor went to Tony Renda, the Suns second baseman. Like Burns, Renda was a both a midseason and postseason All-Star. He led the Sally League with 43 doubles 99 runs scored while going .294/.380/.405 with 30 steals and 51 RBI. Renda was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2012 First Year Player Draft out of the Univ. California.

Friday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Thunder Win 2013

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Harrisburg Lost, 11-4 END OF SEASON N/A
Hagerstown Lost, 6-0 @ Savannah, 7:05 p.m. Bacus (1-0, 0.00) vs. Matz (5-6, 2.62)



Trenton 11 Harrisburg 4
• Karns (L, 1-1) 2⅔ IP, 4H, 5R, 5ER, 3BB, 2K, HBP, WP
• Grace 2IP, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 2K
• Hague 3-4, R, BB, RBI
• Burns 2-4, BB, SB

It’s a painful sight to see — the opposing team celebrating on your home field — but tip your caps to Trenton, who beat Harrisburg 11-4 to win the Eastern League Championship Series. They swept the two division champions by a composite score of 35-16 over six games. The Senators briefly led 1-0 after an RBI single by Justin Bloxom in the 1st, but an epic third-inning meltdown sealed the deal for the Thunder. Nathan Karns worked around walks in the 1st and 2nd innings but couldn’t get the third out in the 3rd, allowing six straight to reach base with two outs beginning with a hit batsman. A single (one run), wild pitch (2nd run), triple (3rd run), double (4th run), and a walk followed to chase Karns. Matt Swynenberg walked a pair to complete the five-run 3rd, then surrendered a two-run shot in the 5th. Harrisburg plated two in their half of the 6th to pull within four at 7-3 but Trenton piled on with another homer in the 8th and three more in the 9th. Harrisburg answered with one in the last of the 9th but it was way too little and way too late.

Savannah 6 Hagerstown 0
• Turnbull (L, 1-1) 5+ IP, 9H, 6R, 6ER, 2BB, 3K
• Harper 2IP, 0H, 0R, BB, 0K, 2-0 IR-S
• Lippincott 1-3, BB
• Pleffner 1-4, 2B

Gabriel Ynoa lived up to his billing as the Sally League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, tossing seven scoreless innings as Savannah shut out Hagerstown, 6-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five Sally League Finals. The slender 20-year-old allowed just four hits and one walk, striking out five for the win. Suns pitcher Kylin Turnbull was touched for all six Sand Gnat runs on nine hits and two walks over five-plus innings. Bryan Harper and Justin Thomas combined for three innings of no-hit relief, but the offense, which threatened early with a pair of doubles in the first two innings, stagnated after Isaac Ballou’s two-out single in the 5th with nine up and nine down until Tony Renda reached on a two-out error in the 8th. Bryan Lippincott was only other Hagerstown batter to reach base twice, drawing a walk in the 1st and singling in the 9th.

Thursday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Harrisburg Lost, 5-4 vs. Trenton, 7:00 p.m. Karns (10-6, 3.26) vs. Greene (8-4, 3.18)
Hagerstown OFF DAY @ Savannah, 7:05 p.m. Turnbull (6-5, 3.58) vs. Ynoa (15-4, 2.72)



Trenton 5 Harrisburg 4
• Cole 4IP, 7H, 1R, 0ER, BB, K
• Mirowski (BS, 1; L, 1-1) 1⅓ IP, 2H, 2R, 2ER, 2BB, 2K
• Head 2-4, 2B, 2RBI
• Burns 1-3, 2R, 2BB, SB

The Senators are on the ropes after a 5-4 loss to the Thunder that gives Trenton a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series. A.J. Cole walked just one and struck out just one, but labored through four innings (87 pitches) to scatter seven hits and allow just an unearned run in the 1st. Harrisburg took a brief 2-1 lead with single runs in the 4th and 5th innings. Trenton answered the first salvo with two in the bottom of the 5th to recapture the lead at 3-2, to which the Sens matched in the top of the 6th for a 4-3 Harrisburg lead. The Thunder plated the tying and game-winning runs in the last of the 7th as they capitalized on a pair of one-out walks with two singles and a slow roller to second. Harrisburg got two runners on with one out in the 9th with singles by Jeff Howell and Billy Burns, but neither Brian Goodwin nor Steve Souza Jr. could connect off Trenton closer Tommy Kahnle to send in pinch-runner Sean Nicol or Burns.

Hagerstown vs. Savannah — Game 3 Sally League Finals
The Sand Gnats achieved what the Senators could not: a split on the road to turn the series into a best-of-three at home. Tonight, Hagerstown faces the Sally League’s Pitcher of the year, 20-year-old Gabriel Ynoa, who won Game 1 in the Divisional Series and five of his last six starts in the regular season. Things don’t get any easier for Hagerstown after Ynoa, as Savannah has tabbed Steven Matz (2.62 ERA, 2.63 FIP) and former position prospect Jacob Kuebler (2.76 ERA, 3.16 FIP) as its Game 4 and 5 starters. Kylin Turnbull gets the ball for the Suns tonight, hoping to celebrate his 24th birthday with a “W.” The Suns have not announced potential starters for Games 4 and 5, but with Jake Johansen having made zero starts with less than five days’ rest this season and an reportedly injured Austin Voth, it’s likely to be two of the following three pitchers: Dakota Bacus, Ian Dickson, and Pedro Encarnacion.

Wednesday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Harrisburg Lost, 8-2 @ Trenton,
7:05 p.m.
Cole (4-2, 2.18) vs.
Mitchell (0-0, 1.93)
Potomac Lost, 6-4 END OF SEASON N/A
Hagerstown Lost, 6-2 OFF DAY N/A



Trenton 8 Harrisburg 2
• Treinen (L, 0-1) 2⅔ IP, 4H, 5R, 5ER, 2BB, 3K, WP
• Gilliam 3IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 0BB, 3K
• Howell 2-2, 2B
• Bloxom 2-4, R, 2B

An early 2-0 Senators lead was erased with a five-run 3rd as the Thunder struck for an 8-2 win in Game One of the Eastern League Championship Series. Blake Treinen took the loss, charged with all five runs on four hits and two walks over two and 2/3rds innings. Matt Swynenberg stranded one in finishing the 3rd but gave up two of his own in the 4th as Trenton scored eight unanswered runs. Harrisburg mustered just six hits and drew three walks, with Justin Bloxom and Jeff Howell combining for four hits and hitting both doubles. The Senators went 1-for-8 with RISP and stranded eight.

Salem 6 Potomac 4
• Solis (L, 0-1) 3⅓ IP, 6H, 5R, 5ER, 2BB, 4K
• Dupra 3IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 2K, HBP
• Nieto 2-4, 2B, 3RBI
• Sanchez 2-4, 2B, BB

The P-Nats broke out for playoff highs of four runs and 10 hits, but the Red Sox would not be denied, winning their 11th straight game by a 6-4 count to sweep the 2013 Mills Cup. It’s the first Carolina League Championship for the franchise since 2001. Sammy Solis was the losing pitcher, knocked for five runs on six hits and two walks over three and a 1/3rd innings while striking out four. The Adrians Nieto and Sanchez both went 2-for-4 with a double with Nieto driving in the first three Potomac runs — all with two outs.

Savannah 6 Hagerstown 2
• Voth (L, 1-1) 1⅓ IP, 1H, 3R, 3ER, 3BB, 0K
• Meza 2⅔ IP, 2H, 0R, BB, 5K, 2-1 IR-S
• McQuillan 3-4, R
• Lippincott 2-4, 3B, 2RBI

Savannah evened the Sally League Championship Series at 1-1 with a 6-2 win over Hagerstown. The Sand Gnats scored three in the 2nd, two in the 5th, and one more in the 8th before the Suns were able to respond with a pair in the last of the 8th. Austin Voth, who left the game with an undisclosed injury (redundant, yes, I know) got the “L” and was dinged for the first three runs on three walks and one hit with no K’s over an inning and a 1/3rd. Mike McQuillan and Bryan Lippincott combined to go 5-for-8 with a run scored (McQuillan) and both RBI (Lippincott). The series resumes on Thursday in Georgia for Games 3 with Kylin Turnbull as the Hagerstown starter.
Roster moves: LHP Jake Walsh added to playoff roster; RHP Pedro Encarnacion removed from it.

Tuesday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Harrisburg OFF DAY @ Trenton,
7:05 p.m.
Treinen (6-7, 3.64) vs.
Turley (11-8, 3.88)
Potomac OFF DAY @ Salem, 7:05 p.m. TBD vs. Cuevas (8-9, 5.05)
Hagerstown Won, 6-1 vs. Savannah,
7:05 p.m.
Voth (1-0, 3.38) vs.
Lugo (2-2, 2.53)



Harrisburg @ Trenton — Game 1 Eastern League Finals
Great pitching can cover up a very poor offense. Same thing goes for Harrisburg, too. Of course, that’s all fine and dandy in the long run but the playoffs are about who’s hot now. Trenton just swept the league’s best team in the regular season (86 wins, #2 offense, #2 pitching), which ought to fit that description. The Senators and Thunders played nearly to a draw, Harrisburg taking five of nine, but Trenton winning two of three in their final series at home. Apparently, rest means more than rust, as both teams are opting for a pitcher who didn’t appear in the first round and last pitched nine days ago.

Potomac @ Salem — Game 3 Carolina League Finals
The P-Nats were the only team in the Carolina League with a winning road record (37-32) and they did sweep the Red Sox in a road series (in April). So yes, there’s a chance and it may even be better than 3,720 to 1… if the team can snap out of its offensive funk. Tonight’s Game Three starter for Potomac continues to be the indecisive “TBD,” though the smart money is for the team to stick to its rotation with Sammy Solis.

Hagerstown 6 Savannah 1
• Johansen (W, 1-0) 5IP, 3H, 0R, 2BB, 2K
• Dickson (H, 1) 3IP, 1H, R, ER, 2BB, 3K
• Renda 1-3, 2B, 3RBI
• Ramos 2-4, R, 2-2B
• Lippincott 2-4, R, RBI

Nats top draft pick Jake Johansen was reactivated and was none the worse for wear, tossing five shutout innings for a 6-1 Suns win over the Sand Gnats in Game One of the Sally League Cahmpionship Series. Johansen allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out two to pick up the win. Tony Renda drove in the first three Hagerstown runs with an RBI groundout in the 3rd and a two-run double in the 5th while “Help Me” Wander Ramos and Bryan Lippincott both went 2-for-4 to lead the Suns offense, which put the game away with a three-run rally in the bottom of the 8th.
Roster moves: RHP Jake Johansen added to the playoff roster; LHP Jake Walsh removed from it.

Last Night In Woodbridge

Bats Have Gone Dead
Salem shut out Potomac, 4-0 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Mills Cup Series. The win was the 10th in a row for the Red Sox, who now have three chances to win one game at home to win their first league championship as a Red Sox affiliate.

That’s the 2013 Mill Cup series in a nutshell, playing it straight, as they used to say in the newspapers (you know, those funny paper thingies that come with the sales flyers). But in sports (and politics), it’s de rigeur to play the blame game. Without discrediting the pitching of Salem and Lynchburg per se, the explanation is pretty simple: as a group, the P-Nats bats have gone dead in the playoffs.

This is, of course, a broad generalization. There are exceptions — Cutter Dykstra, .375; Randolph Oduber, .333; Kevin Keyes, .294. But then there’s the heart of the lineup — Michael Taylor, .105; Adrian Nieto, .000; Brandon Miller, .000. Taylor is perhaps the most heartbreaking because even Stevie Wonder can see that he’s pressing, with eight strikeouts that have nearly been all waves at soft stuff away versus a rip-and-miss, a step back to his fundamental flaw that forced him to repeat this level in the first place.

Thus, it didn’t really matter who was pitching last night for Potomac; there are no nil-nil ties in baseball. Mooneyham was wild, walking four and running multiple deep counts, but only gave up one hit and two runs over four innings. Paul Demny wasn’t any better, giving up two runs on four hits and a walk over two and a 1/3rd innings of relief.

As you might expect from the numbers above, Dykstra and Oduber were 2-for-4 and 2-for-3 respectively but just once had consecutive hits, with one out in the 3rd. Oduber strayed too far past second base on a single to left by Dykstra and was gunned down 7-6-4 to kill the one true rally the P-Nats were able to put together. They finished with six hits (all singles) and one walk and left on seven.

The series shifts to Salem for remainder of the series. Sammy Solis is the most likely Game 3 starter for Potomac, but it’s possible that Blake Schwartz will be asked to take the hill on four days’ rest after throwing eight innings on Thursday. The Red Sox have announced that William Cuevas will oppose whomever the P-Nats choose.

Monday’s News & Notes — Playoff Edition

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Harrisburg OFF DAY OFF DAY N/A
Potomac Lost, 4-0 OFF DAY N/A
Hagerstown OFF DAY vs. Savannah,
7:05 p.m.
Voth (1-0, 3.38) vs. TBD



Harrisburg — OFF DAY
With neither Eastern League Division Series going the distance, it’s an extra day off for both teams, who will meet in Trenton for Games One & Two before shifting to Harrisburg for the remainder of the Finals.

Salem 4 Potomac 0
• Mooneyham (L, 0-1) 4IP, 1H, 2R, 2ER, 4BB, 3K, WP
• Henke 1⅔ IP, 1H, 0R, BB, K
• Oduber 2-3
• Dykstra 2-4

Another loss Last Night In Woodbridge.

Hagerstown — OFF DAY
One of the more curious aspects of this championship series (Savannah vs. Hagerstown) is not only did these two teams not meet in the regular season… they haven’t played each other since 2004. The Hagerstown Suns Fan Club has the explanation. Officially, Austin Voth gets the ball in Game One, however local beat writer Bob Parasiliti is reporting that Jake Johansen will be activated and make the start.

Last Night In Woodbridge

It was too little, too late as the P-Nats rallied for three in the bottom of the ninth but still fell two runs short, 5-3.

Adrian Nieto drew a leadoff walk while Mike Gilmartin drew a two-out walk. Justin Miller, Francisco Soriano, and Cutter Dykstra went back-to-back-to-back with singles to score two runs. After Salem gifted Potomac with an error on a Adrian Sanchez groundout to advance Dykstra and Sanchez to second and third, Michael Taylor came up with a chance to tie the game.

Instead, Taylor struck out for the third time in the game, bringing his playoff tally to seven whiffs in three games.

Early on, this had the makings of yet another pitcher’s duel. Matt Purke strung four zeroes atop the scoreboard, retiring seven straight at one point while his counterpart, Heri Quevedo, got the first six outs on the ground and struck out the side in the third.

Salem got on the board first with three runs in the 5th. And there was nothing cheap about them — two booming doubles to center sandwiched around a walk and a single, followed by a warning-track sacrifice fly. The damage carried over into the 6th as a clearly flustered Purke gave up a third double and walked the next batter while trying to finesse him with breaking pitch after breaking pitch.

Colin Bates came on and walked his first batter to load the bases. With nobody, this had the makings of another big inning. Instead, Bates got two grounder to third, the first of which was tossed home to force the runner, the second: around the horn for the 5-4-3 DP.

Baseball’s equivalent to a goal line stand, however, did not result in the offense marching back down the field. For the second time in the game, Quevedo quashed a would-be rally with double-play ball in the last of 6th.

Salem tacked on what proved to be the game-winning runs with a two-out single followed by a long HR by the Nos. 3-4 batters Henry Ramos and Keury De La Cruz, giving Salem a 5-0 lead that they were able to hold despite the late Potomac comeback.

The series continues tonight in Woodbridge with Potomac opting to send out Brett Mooneyham as the starter despite his three abysmal outings to finish the regular season. Salem will give the ball to Mike Augliera, who went 1-2 with an ERA of 6.64 in four starts against Potomac in 2013.