AFL Update: Oct. 19, 2017

The Solar Sox took an early 2-0 lead and scored three in the 8th, but in between it was all the Rafters, who paddled them for a 6-5 loss.

Just two Nationals got into yesterday’s game:

• Taylor Gushue (pictured above) got the start as the designated hitter but went 0-for-4 without a strikeout.

• Dakota Bacus gave up two runs on three hits in his lone inning of work and was charged with the loss.

Mesa visits Surprise today and then hosts the Saguaros tomorrow to finish out the week. Saturday is the annual Hitting Challenge, which will be held in Mesa this year.

AFL Update: Oct. 18, 2017

The Solar Sox snapped a two-game slide with an 8-5 win over the Rafters.

Kyle McGowin got the start and the “W” with four scoreless innings, allowing four hits, no walks, and striking out five. He threw 62 pitches, 41 for strikes, not counting the hit batsman.

Daniel Johnson slid over to center field for this one, but still led off. He broke a two-game oh-fer streak with a walk, a pair of singles, and a stolen base. Defensively, he had one putout and no errors.

Taylor Gushue (pictured above) started for third time but went hitless again, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. Down 8-0 at one point, Salt River did not attempt to steal, thus Gushue had no assists and all nine putouts came by way of the K.

The two teams rematch this afternoon in Mesa. The Solar Sox play day games tomorrow and Friday as well.

AFL Update: Oct. 17, 2017

Mesa was held to just three hits in a 2-0 shutout by Glendale.

Daniel Johnson was the sole National to start, leading off and playing right field but was held hitless again with an 0-for-4 night and one whiff. He had no putouts on defense.

Taylor Gushue came off the bench to pinch-hit in bottom of the 8th and struck out.

Austen Williams and Jimmy Cordero (pictured above) both pitched a scoreless inning in relief.

Mesa hits the road for Salt River tonight.

INJURY UPDATE: From Lee Magenheim – Kelvin Gutierrez has two fingers in a splint and estimates he’ll be back as soon as next week.

AFL/Offseason Update: Oct. 14, 2017

The Solar Sox got three in the first and never looked back as they held on for a 4-2 win over the Javelinas.

Daniel Johnson got the start in right field and led off again but was 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts. Defensively, he had just one putout.

Taylor Gushue started at catcher but was also 0-for-4 but with only one whiff. He threw out two of three runners trying to steal against him.

Dakota Bacus made his second appearance, a scoreless 8th inning with one hit allowed and one K on 12 pitches.

Mesa remains on the road to close out the week, visiting Glendale this afternoon.
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BA TOP PROSPECT LISTS
Baseball America completed its fall SEO campaign swing through the League Top 20s this week and, as mentioned in the comments, Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna came in at nos. 4 and 5 respectively. Garcia is obviously more advanced defensively, but Antuna is proving the inference that there must be a reason why they’re tolerating 26 errors in 36 games, and that reason is that he can hit (.301/.382/.399). With more than $5M “invested”* between them, the 2017-2018 offseason question is whether one or both start next spring in Hagerstown.
* Quotes because the signing bonus is reflection of the IFA system, not the players. About the only thing that makes it better than the NCAA is that nobody’s pretending that it’s not about the money.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
Just some releases from the DSL:
• RHPs Christian Flores, Hector Ramirez, Francisco Constanzo, Rafael Melendez
• LHP Yelmery Sisnero
• 1B Luis Santana
• LF David Escobar

WINTER LEAGUE SIGHTINGS
Winter Leagues have already begun in Venezuela, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Rosters are incomplete, but there is a sizable contingent on Los Tigres de Licey in the DWL.

THE HAGERSTOWN SUNS
Finally, we’ve reached the full-season teams – where we have some semblance of non-team coverage – but we’re also hitting the divide between prospects and minor-leaguers. This is the apex, after this week it’s going to be Victor Robles and a whole lot of “well, maybe if…”

We’re also at the first of two levels where we have some eyes on the field. My “Hagerstown Guy,” who has a love-hate relationship with both the Suns and the Nationals (i.e. he loves to hate on them 🙃), has his thoughts on the hitters as well as the throw…er, pitchers.

The Suns were one of two (2) affiliates with a winning record in 2017. However, unlike the G-Nats, they did not make the playoffs as the first-half champion Intimidators swept them by a combined score of 28-7 in a pair of doubleheaders in the final week before the All-Star break and they missed the mark by 1½ games. A tailspin on 13 losses in 17 games in mid-to-late August sealed their fate in the second half, as four straight wins to finish out sliced the margin to 2½ games.

Injuries (Juan Soto, Carter Kieboom) and trades (Tyler Watson, Sheldon Neuse) ate into the Hagerstown’s production, which was third in the 14-team Sally Lg., while the pitching was 11th. The team outperformed its Pythagorean projection of .500 as it scored 643 runs and allowed 643 runs. Oddly, the Suns allowed the fewest stolen bases and threw out the fewest baserunners.

Now, for the Obligatory Top 5’s (of the players who remain)….

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Carter Kieboom, SS
.304 GPA, .497 SLG%
1. Sterling Sharp, RHSP
3.69/3.81/1.23, 1.36 BB/9
2. Daniel Johnson, OF
.295 GPA, 17HR in 88G
2. Hayden Howard, LHRP
2.95/3.63/1.31, 3.22 K:BB ratio
3. Juan Soto, OF
.323 GPA, .523 SLG%
3. Ben Braymer, LHSP
5.26/3.47/1.43, 8.84 K/9
4. Tres Barrera, C
.275 GPA, 3PB, .995 FA
4. A.J. Bogucki, RHSP
3.56/3.78/1.24, 3HR in 55⅔ IP
5. Blake Perkins, OF
.254 GPA, 31SB, 7E, 8 Assists
5. Matt DeRosier, RHSP
3.60/3.45/1.18, 8.5 K/9

Picking the hitters was easy. I’m sure someone will argue for Jake Noll over Perkins or Barrera; I saw him in Potomac in August and he didn’t impress me. Maybe I’m being unfair to Aldrem Corredor, but he’s just 22 and with a shortage of 1B in the system, he’ll more than likely make the 2018 watchlist.

Picking the pitchers was not easy. Trades took away the no-doubt guys, and no one (even the traded pitchers) had a league-average FIP.

As always, folks interested in seeing the full stats can find them here.

AFL Update: Oct. 13, 2017

Mesa rallied for five in the bottom of the 8th but still fell one run short (how novel) for a 9-8 loss to Peoria.

Daniel Johnson (pictured above) led off and played right field. He reached base three times with a walk in the 1st, a single in the 2nd, an a single in the 8th. He scored twice, stole two bases, and drove in two. Defensively, he made three putouts and threw out a runner trying to advance to second on a two-out RBI single.

Kelvin Gutierrez started at third base but was removed when his hand was stepped on in a play at third base in the top of the first inning.

The two teams rematch and switch venues with Mesa visiting Peoria.

AFL Update: Oct. 12, 2017

Scottsdale built a 4-1 lead midway through yesterday’s tilt against Mesa but a four-spot in the 6th and a grand slam by former National farmhand Sheldon Neuse in the 7th powered the Solar Sox to a 9-8 win.

Kyle McGowin got the start, but was knocked around for three runs (two earned) on six hits over four innings. He walked none and struck out six.

Austen Williams was the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen, but wasn’t much more effective as he allowed one run on two hits and a walk over two innings. He was the pitcher of record when the Solar Sox rallied and got credit for the win.

Jimmy Cordero also made his first appearance, working around two hits in a scoreless 8th inning while striking out one.

Daniel Johnson (pictured above; he was safe) got the start in centerfield and went 2-for-4 with a triple and scored twice. Defensively, he made one putout.

Taylor Gushue was behind the dish and threw out two of four runners trying to steal, though he committed an error and racked up 10 putouts. To the left of the plate, he went 1-for-4.

Mesa plays Peoria over the next two afternoons with a home game today and in Peoria tomorrow.

AFL Update: Oct. 11, 2017

The Nats’ 2017 entry in the Arizona Fall League—the Mesa Solar Sox—hit the ground face-first as the Scottsdale Scorpions dropped a four-spot in the 3rd and a deuce in the 4th en route to a 7-4 win.

Just two Nationals appeared in the game. Dakota Bacus (above) came on to put out the fire with two outs in the 4th. He stranded one runner, then pitched a 1-2-3 fifth to finished with one and 1/3 scoreless innings pitched with one strikeout.

Kelvin Gutierrez (below) got the start at third base but went 0-for-4 at the plate and made an assist on a groundout in the 5th.

The two teams switch venues and play day game this afternoon. Mesa plays day games the rest of the week before an off day on Sunday.

As noted in the comments, Daniel Johnson has replaced Victor Robles on the Mesa roster. There has been speculation that Robles will join the team if/when the Nationals are eliminated from the playoffs, but nothing official has been released.

Nats to Look for a new AAA Affiliate for 2019

By now, you’ve probably heard that the New York Mets have bought the Syracuse Chiefs, which have been the Nationals’ AAA affiliate since 2009.

Details at this point are still scarce – we don’t know, for example, how much the sale price was or whether the Chiefs approached the Mets or vice-versa. At this point, I tend to believe the latter.

Why? Because for the past 10 years, the trend has been for major-league teams to buy affiliates to ensure a desired location or environment, as J.J. Cooper of Baseball America writes here. As any East Coast team would be, the Mets were unhappy with the logistics of flying a player from the West Coast.

More intriguing is Cooper’s environment argument, which has seen the California League lose two teams and the Carolina League expanded by two and two franchises purchased (Salem by Boston in 2009, Carolina by Milwaukee this year). It’s almost mandatory for a prospect writer to excuse poor pitching and discount good hitting in the CAL. It also makes it harder for the analytics folks to break down, and even harder for the casual fans to understand (well, aside from “the whole league is like the Colorado Rockies”).

As the headline suggests, the Nats are now back to trying to find a new home for their roster-fill…er, AAA team. The knee-jerk analysis is that they’ll end up in the market that the Mets are leaving: Las Vegas. While certainly possible, there are 17 teams that have expiring PDCs after next season and nine of them are in the PCL like Vegas, baby (sorry, autocorrect).

Presuming that the Nationals will want to stay in the I.L. and not knowing the politics of the PDCs, my best guess is that Washington will make a play for Rochester. Given the Baltimore-DC rivalry, I know lots of folks would want a shot at Norfolk, but do you remember that time when the O’s were outbid or outmaneuvered by the Nats? Not to mention, I’m not sure if the drive will be any shorter.

In any case, the relative stability of the affiliates — same five since 2010 — has been shaken and changes are coming.

Offseason Update: Oct. 7, 2017

They only got two hits. Neither was a home run. You tend to lose those games when that happens, no matter how well your pitcher pitched.

Back to our weekly minors update…

ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
With the addition of Victor Robles to Washington’s NLDS roster, his replacement on the Mesa Solar Sox roster has not yet been named. Should Rizzo’s sports bar continue its anti-DUI practice–you’re done after one round–it’s still possible that he could play in the opening game on Tuesday.

BA TOP 20 PROSPECT LISTS
As usual, the Nats had no top 20 prospects in the New York Penn League Top 20. There was just one question in the NYPL Top 20 chat:

Sammy (DC): Where would you have placed Seth Romero on this list? Any word on whether or not his makeup had improved?

J.J. Cooper: The reviews were less complimentary than expected. The stuff was solid as he showed three average or better pitches, but the slider wasn’t as devastating as evaluators expected. Fellow 2017 Nats draftee Nick Raquet looks just as good or better with a plus fastball, some funk to his delivery and a quality breaking ball. Romero may have been rusty after a long layoff, but next season is a big one for him as he needs to show consistency both on the mound and being a professional off of it.

TRANSACTION STUFF
Just two re-signings: RHPs Wirkin Estevez and Greg Ross.

THE AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS
It’s been five straight seasons without a winner at Falcon Park (the home team, natch), which may lead some folks to wonder about the water in the region. Alas, it would appear to be more attributable to either drafting lower or better prospects skipping past the level.

Unlike a year ago, hitting was not the problem. The Doubledays were fourth in runs scored (4.33 R/G), which you’d expect from the oldest team in the league. Almost 60% of the PAs were made players older than 21 and almost 16% by players 23 or older excluding rehabs.

It was the pitching: 13th in the 14-team NYPL at 4.89 R/G (Lg. Avg. 4.05), surpassed only by the team they tied for last place in the Pinckney Division, Batavia, at 4.93. The relief pitching in particular was bad, with several relievers sporting ERAs of 5.00 or higher and FIPs above 4.00 (i.e. nearly a run higher than lg. avg).

As I typically do with cellar-dwelling teams, I’m combining the list into one. Like the GCL and DSL, I’m excluding age-inappropriate players. But this year, I’m not ranking them because it’ll just create pointless arguments in the comments. The sample sizes here are so small and there are some rather noticeable red flags in the stats, as “meaningless” as they may be.

Wil Crowe, RHSP 0-0, 0SV, 7GS, 2.61/4.45/1.02, 3HR in 20⅔ IP
Kameron Esthay, OF .273/.320/.411, 5HR, 30RBI in 52G
Gabe Klobosits, RHRP 0-0, 5SV, 15G, 1.66/2.74/1.15, promoted twice in 1st yr.
Nick Raquet, LHSP 3-2, 0SV, 11GS 2.45/3.55/1.23; 3.9 K/9
Seth Romero, LHSP 0-1, 0SV, 6GS 5.40/1.13/1.25; 14.4 K/9
Chance Shepard, 1B/DH .249/.372/.459, 7HR in 54G
Jackson Tetrault, RHSP 2-2, 0SV, 11G, 6GS, 2.58/3.15/1.25, 38⅓ IP

For those wondering about Oliver Ortiz and Andres Martinez, who are age-appropriate and had decent production: both were repeating the level and/or had been dropped down from Hagerstown. Full stats for the team can be found here.

Offseason Update: Sept. 30, 2017

We’re down to the final weekend, wondering not who the big club will play in the NLDS, but when. Is it okay to root for an odd start time in hopes of snagging a ticket on the resale market? Asking for a friend.

Alas, plenty o’ places to discuss that, but we’re just little ol’ minors site…

BA TOP 20 LISTS
As expected, Victor Robles also made the Carolina League Top 20, albeit as only the #2, and was joined by Daniel Johnson at #18. Double-dipping is what BA does, and thus Johnson also made the Sally Lg. top 20 at #13. Carter Kieboom’s incumbency and an impressive showing in an abbreviated season (210 of 255PA at Hagerstown) made him the #8 pick. For those who obsess over the departed, Sheldon “Come On Feel The” Neuse was the #20 pick but McKenzie Mills was not ranked.

A couple of tidbits from yesterday’s chat:

Noel (Portland): Is Kieboom likely a 2b in the bug leagues?
J.J. Cooper: More likely a 2b or 3B than SS, but he has enough feel to maybe make SS work for a while.

Nats Fan (DC): When comparing Victor Robles to Juan Soto, it’s obvious that Robles is the far superior defender. However, when comparing them offensively, is it fair to say that Robles profiles as a #2 spot hitting CF who will hit .280 with 12-15 HRs a year while Juan Soto is your prototypical #3/#4 who in his prime should be hitting .300+ with 25-30 HRs?
J.J. Cooper: I’d say that’s fair. A lot of projection involved here, but Robles’ value comes more from speed/defense. Soto is a bat-first prospect.

Soto did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the list.

TRANSACTIONS
It’s a Yukon Cornelius week.

THE 2017 GCL NATIONALS
Thanks to the suggestion to stop covering the Chiefs, the G-Nats were watched the most closely since 2014. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was another playoff run, as they made it to the GCL Finals but lost the best-of-three series 2-1 to the G-Yankees East. Pitching carried this team, as they were the fifth-best team at 3.95 R/G and had just a slightly-better-than-league-average offense (4.57 vs. 4.51 R/G) while the defense was below-average.

What’s perhaps most encouraging is that the four most-used players on offense were 17 or younger and were in their first professional season. Two of them were even better than the league average, which is impressive for any first-year player, never mind one too young to vote in this country (if he was a U.S. citizen, natch). And while Yasel Antuna may have been a running joke for his 20 errors in 21 games at SS, methinks they’ll find position for his .301/.382/.399 bat stay in the lineup.

Now, for the reminder that the sample sizes here are small, as are the odds of many of these guys to rise above Low-A.

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Justin Connell, LF
.274 GPA, .407 OBP
1. Tomas Alastre, RHSP
2.55/3.38/1.02, 6.2 H/9IP
2. Yasel Antuna, SS
.272 GPA, 23BB
2. Angel Guillen, RHRP
3.42/3.00/1.18, 1.9 BB/9
3. Luis Garcia, 2B
.245 GPA, .387 SLG%
3. Jackson Stoeckinger, LHSP
4.73/2.49/1.31, 10.46 K/9IP
4. Jamori Blash, 1B
.237 GPA, .985 FA
4. Darly Infante, LHRP
4.43/3.69/1.39, 10.48 K/9IP
5. Juan Evangelista, RF
.235 GPA, 3HR
5. Jose Jimenez, LHRP
1.35/3.87/1.13, 1.9 BB/9

The hype went to the IFAs but the most production came from 18-y.o. Justin Connell, an 11th Rd. pick from Pembroke Pines, FL. Honorable mentions go to 35th-Rd. pick Jackson Cramer, who turns 23 in December, and 22nd-Rd. pick 19-y.o. Nelson Galindez at 1B and RHSP respectively. The full team’s statistics can be viewed here.