AFL Update: October 18, 2011

It’s starting to feel like the GCL in the AFL, as the Scottsdale Scorpions were stung for their fifth straight loss by a 7-4 count.

Just one National farmhand saw game action, as Bryce Harper doubled to lead off the 4th inning in the course of going 1-for-4. He was later thrown out at the plate trying to score on a two-out single.

Harper made two putouts while playing right field. Some folks have contacted me regarding Harper’s defense and let me quote the following replies I got from Dave Gershman via Twitter. Gershman writes for MarlinsDaily and covers the New York-Penn League:

Harper made a few lackluster plays, including one where he rushed a throw and missed the plate…needs to take better routes but the bat is way more important than the glove.

My personal takeaway from this is that this is Harper’s first full year in the outfield and he’s still learning to translate his raw tools into skills. I’d like to see him get more time in center next season, even if it’s merely to serve the purpose of giving him a day where he doesn’t have to worry about angles so much. My only fear is that he’ll take out a teammate trying to make a play that he should defer to the more experienced outfielder.

Two Suns Named To BA’s Sally League Top 20

OK, so maybe I’m being a little coy. Everybody knows who’s the #1 prospect in the South Atlantic League — Bryce Harper — the real drama is who else might get named.

That would be A.J. Cole.^ranked #11

Before Manno’s minions (see update below) storm the offices in Durham, NC, don’t forget that Baseball America likes ’em young — twelve of the twenty were teenagers, like Cole & Harper, and six of those eight were 20. Also working against him: He’s a reliever. Every pitcher named was a starter.

That I don’t have a problem with, actually. I always worry about kids being shoved into the LaRussa bullpen model. If anything, I’d love to see the piggyback rotation in use more often in the lower minors because it dovetails with my belief (and others’) that the aforementioned has become a crutch for managers, and it certainly does no favors to minor-leaguers. But that’s another discussion for another day.

Here are the highlights from the scouting reports that accompanied the list…

Primarily a catcher as an amateur, Harper converted to the outfield and put in time to improve his routes on flyballs. With slightly above-average speed and cannon arm, he has all the tools to become a good right fielder and might be able to handle center. Aside from a well-documented incident where he blew a kiss to the pitcher after a homer against Greensboro, his makeup came off as intense more than immature.

While many players hit the wall during their first full pro season, Cole did just the opposite. His fastball went from the low 90s in April to 94-95 mph in August. He also learned how to keep the ball in the yard: after giving up five HRs in his first seven starts, Cole allowed just one over the last 13. His success is often dictated by his fastball, which he commands well and can cut or sink. His breaking ball lacks consistency, and his changeup is a work in progress. He does a nice job of throwing all three pitches for strikes.

Unless BA switches up its schedule like it did with the NYPL, the Carolina League is slated for Friday, the Eastern League on next Tuesday, the International League the Friday after that.

UPDATE: It may not have the same catchet, but did name Chris Manno the second-best reliever in all of minor-league baseball.

Sunday’s News & Notes

A three-game sweep on rainy Saturday

The Quick Rundown…

Team Yesterday’s Result Today’s Game Pitching Matchup
Syracuse Chiefs Won, 11-0 vs. Durham, 2:00 p.m. Tom Milone (2-3, 4.21) vs.
Edgar Gonzalez (2-2, 3.26)
Harrisburg Senators Postponed @ Richmond, 2:05 p.m. Tanner Roark (1st game) vs.
Daryl Maday (1-2, 3.00)
Potomac Nationals Won, 5-4 (8 inn.) vs. Wilmington, 1:05 p.m. Michell Clegg (1-2, 6.29) vs.
Jake Odorizzi (3-0, 1.97)
Hagerstown Suns Won, 1-0 vs. Delmarva, 6:35 p.m. Bobby Hansen (4-1, 4.08) vs.
Ervis Manzanillo (1-2, 6.08)

Syracuse 11 Durham 0
• Meyers (W, 2-0) 7IP 4H 0R 0BB 8K
• Martin 2IP 1H 0R 0BB 2K
• Aubrey 4-4, 4R, 4HR, 7RBI

Michael Aubrey had a career day, belting four big flies for seven RBIs as the Chiefs trampled the Bulls, 11-0. Brad Meyers and J.D. Martin combined for a five-ht shutout, with Meyers going the first seven and striking out eight, and Martin finishing and striking out two. Neither pitcher issued a walk.

Harrisburg-Richmond — PPD
The rains that delayed the Syracuse and Hagerstown games and shortened the Potomac game stopped the Harrisburg game. It will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Saturday, July 9th.

Potomac 5 Wilmington 4 (8 inn.)
• Rosenbaum (ND) 7IP 10H 4R 3ER 3BB 5K
• Weaver (W, 1-0) 1IP 0H 0R 0BB 1K
• Perez 3-4, 3RBI
• Bloxom 2-4, 2R, 2HR, 2RBI

Can’t complain about this one. Check out what went down Last Night In Woodbridge

Hagerstown 1 Lakewood 0
• Ray (W, 1-0) 6IP 2H 0R 1BB 7K
• McCatty (H, 3) 1⅔ IP 2H 0R 0BB 1K
• Manno (S, 5) 1⅓ 0H 0R 2BB 1K
• Harper 2-4, R, HR, RBI

Three Suns pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout while Bryce Harper’s home run was difference in a 1-0 Hagerstown win over Lakewood. Robbie Ray picked up his first professional win with six innings with just two hits and one walk allowed to go with seven strikeouts. Shane McCatty and Chris Manno got the hold and save respectively. BRyce Harper extended his hitting streak to 18 games and drove in the sole run of the game with a seventh-inning blast, and picked up another hit in the ninth to push his batting average to a Sally League-leading .393.

Hagerstown Announces Its 2011 Roster

Fifteen watchlist players make up the 25-man roster, including you-know-who

The last of the full-season rosters has been announced (thanks again to our commenters for tipping me off).

It’s still another 10 days until the Suns’ home opener (and not uncoincidentally, single-game tickets don’t go on sale until that morning). If I’m able to go, we’ll have a “Last Night in Hagerstown” next weekend. But fret not, we’ve got some eyes out there if I can’t.

Without further ado…

Paul Applebee
Sam Brown
Wilson Eusebio
Matt Grace
Ben Graham
Bobby Hansen
Chad Jenkins
Taylor Jordan
Christopher Manno
Shane McCatty
Christopher McKenzie
Cameron Selik
Matt Swynenberg

David Freitas
Cole Leonida
Sam Palace (On disabled list)

Blake Kelso
Jason Martinson
Brett Newsome
Sean Nicol
Mills Rogers
Adrian Sanchez

Bryce Harper
Wade Moore
Randolph Oduber
Michael Taylor

Led by some Bryce Harper kid, there are 15 of our watchlist players — not as “loaded” as Potomac seems, but in a trend that started last year, younger and closer to the ideal age for the league.

Almost the entire Vermont rotation, the one that faded badly last August, made the jump. But joining them from the GCL are Matt Grace and Christopher Manno (can the minions get a holla? OK, sorry. That sounded more on the Cape than outta Compton) so who will start and who will relieve will be a much bigger question than in Potomac.

Who’s missing? Justin Bloxom, J.R. Higley, Dean Weaver and Evan Bronson are the most notable over-22 names that we might have expected back. Now the question is who’s hurt or who’s been released. As of this writing, at roughly 8:15 p.m., neither the Hagerstown roster nor the Auburn roster on has been updated, so like last week, we await the transactions news to find out the answers.

We’re now less than 72 hours from the “other” Opening Day

Morning Reading

Some stories to read before 2011 Spring Training *finally* starts…

Today’s the first game of Spring Training, which means we’ll have box scores to look at tomorrow and 234 tweets about Bryce Harper this afternoon. Tomorrow night, the tape-delayed game will be shown on the MLB Network, and for a preview, here’s a story by Bill “The Rocket” Ladson.

In between, a few stories of note that appeared from the rest of the beat guys over the weekend…

MASN’s Ben Goessling posted the roster of the mincamp, a.k.a. accelerated minor-league camp, a list of names we’re rather familiar with as 18 of the 22 pitchers, three of the five catchers, nine of the 10 infielders, and all six of the outfielders are on our watchlist. Goessling also had a nice post about the reuniting of college teammates Corey Brown and Adam Carr.

Steve Lombardozzi is among the infielders (oversight, note that there are nine names but “10” in the subhead), so perhaps the most notable omission is Tanner Roark. Cameron Selik, Mitchell Clegg and Hassan Pena are three pitchers that weren’t sent to the FIL (almost all the position players were), leading to the inference that they had been shut down for the year (that’s almost certain with Clegg, who was sent to the GCL for a stint). Otherwise, as noted in the comments, it appears that Michael Taylor is being converted to the outfield.

CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman filed one of the great staples of spring-training sportswriting, the upbeat teammates piece, profiling the Nats’ double-play combo of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa, proclaiming they’re a “duo with ‘swagger.'” No word on whether father-to-be Desmond will be rockin’ the swagger wagon.

Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore gave us a rundown of Rule 5 pickup Brian Broderick’s faceoff against Bryce Harper, which ended with the 18-year-old going down on strikes just as he did when the two matched up in the Arizona Fall League. As I remarked in the comments, I think he’s going to see a steady diet of offspeed and breaking pitches until he proves he can hit them. In some ways, getting carved up like this a few times may prove beneficial, as it’s clear Mr. Harper is unlikely to be demoralized and more likely to accept his failure a la Pedro Cerrano as a challenge.

Sickels On The Hitters

A look at the Nationals batters profiled in the John Sickels 2011 prospect book

As with the pitchers, Sickels has some principles that I’d like summarize before we look at the list:

…Instead of the Five Tools, Sickels looks at what he calls the Seven Skills:
1. Controlling the strike zone
2. Hitting for power
3. Hitting for average
4. Offensive speed
5. Fielding range
6. Fielding reliability
7. Throwing utility

…Controlling the strike zone isn’t strictly not striking out (Sickels likes a batter to walk about 10% of his PAs) but also comparing BBs to Ks, which means a guy that doesn’t walk a lot is tolerable if he also doesn’t strike out much, and there are plenty of guys that both strike out a lot and walk a lot, but there are very few good hitters that don’t walk much and strike out a lot.

…Sickels likes to look at OPS and a variation of Bill James’ secondary average in relation to his batting average. His formula is basically doubles, plus twice the number of triples, plus three times the number of HRs, plus walks, plus the difference between SBs and CS, all divided by at-bats. The point? That a low-average guy that either hits for serious power or gets on base a lot is just as valuable if not more than a high-average batter with less power. That may sound obvious, but recall how many people have used “offensive woes” to describe a .235 hitter that had a .534 secondary average last season (Derek Norris).

…Offensive speed is how well the player runs the bases, not how fast. The best baserunners are smart and fast, but as many of us have seen, they’re usually one or the other but rarely both.

…Defensively, Sickels freely admits that he has to rely on the scouts heavily because the more advanced defensive metrics (e.g. Zone Rating) simply aren’t available for the minors, noting that range (which ZR measures) is developmentally more important than reliability.

Bryce Harper – A Steve Lombardozzi – C+ (C) Randolph Oduber – C
Derek Norris – B+ (B+) Chris Marrero – C+ (B-) David Freitas – C
Danny Espinosa – B (B) Rick Hague – C+ Jeff Kobernus – C (C+)
Wilson Ramos – B- (B) Corey Brown – C+ Justin Bloxom – C
Eury Perez – C+ Destin Hood – C (C+) Tyler Moore – C
J.P. Ramirez – C+ (C)

As before, the bolded guys are the ones that didn’t appear on the BA list and all of them are on our watchlist. Unlike the pitchers, there’s not so much pride in picking these guys out of the crowd because they were either an All-Star or an MVP in their leagues. Like Rob Wort, Vermont IFs Jason Martinson and Blake Kelso were left on the cutting-room floor as Grade-C guys.

And that completes my review of the prospect books, bringing us pretty damn near the start of spring training. Unfortunately, there are no plans for a “This Afternoon In Viera” or anything like that. As the snark in the tags suggests, there won’t be a Bryce Harper love-fest, just as there wasn’t a Stephen Strasburg slobbering last spring. Instead, I’ll be working on the periphery, focusing on the minor-league angles that I see [insert comparison to dating in high school here] from the (paid) beat guys as they cover the goings-on in Florida.

So the flow of posts is probably going to slow while the attention turns to the big club, but I hope folks will keep checking back here over occasionally over the next few weeks. I always post a link on Twitter when I publish, and for those that prefer the vinyl to the MP3 in terms of Internet communication technology, WordPress creates an RSS feed, too.