Mesa Loses AFL Title Game, 8-2

The game started with so much promise for Mesa, with Victor Robles (pictured above, greeting the Braves’ Ronald Acuna) leading a salvo of back-to-back-to-back singles to open the game and take a 2-0 lead early.

But it was all Peoria after that as the Javelinas scored eight unanswered runs to win the 2017 Arizona Fall Championship game, 8-2.

Robles singled again in the 8th to finish the game at 2-for-4 and go 12-for-45 in 14 AFL games. He was joined in the lineup by Kelvin Gutierrez, who once again played 1B to make room for former Nats farmhand Sheldon Neuse. Gutierrez went hitless, but still had a much stronger fall (10-for-44, 7BB, 9RBI in 14G) than most would have expected after an injury-shortened 2017.

Dakota Bacus also appeared in the game but retired just one of three batters faced and was charged with the final two Peoria runs.

# # #

Sad-SpicklesAnd that’s a wrap on the 2017 minor-league season, No. 8 for this space, and the sixth for which Lee Magehenim has added pictures far better than the one- or two-hundred word summaries on how the Nats did in Arizona.

AFL Update: Nov. 7, 2017

Kelvin Gutierrez drew a leadoff walk in the 4th and scored ahead of A.J. Simcox’s two-run HR that gave the Solar Sox a 2-1 lead en route to a 5-2 win over the Scorpions.

Kyle McGowin (pictured) won for third time in five starts with one run let in on a home run and five hits total over four innings. He walked none, struck out five, and threw 55 pitches, 37 for strikes.

Jimmy Cordero also pitched but saw his scoreless inning streak end at 8⅓ innings as he gave up a run in his second inning of work on two hits and a walk. He struck out four and earned a hold.

Gutierrez also drove in a run in the 7th with an RBI single. The Mesa DH finished with a line 1-for-2 with a run scored and two walks and is now 7-for-16 in the six games he’s played with six runs scored and five RBI.
And of course, there was that Victor Robles guy… he led off and played center field, where he made two putouts. He only went 1-for-5 but stayed upright and scored on a steal of third (pictured) that coincided with a wild pitch.

Mesa returns to action this afternoon as they host Peoria. The two teams are both in first place, by 1½ and 4 games respectively, with eight games left to play.

AFL Update: Nov. 1, 2017

Mesa got two in the bottom of the 5th to take a 2-0 lead but it was all Scottsdale after that as they scored six in the 6th en route to an 8-2 win.

Just one National saw game action – Daniel Johnson, who drew a walk in four PA’s as the Solar Sox DH. Johnson, who got off to a 10-for-27 start in his first six games, has cooled down to a .277 BA with 1-for-16 spell since.

The loss dropped Mesa to 10-8 in the AFL East, which is a ½ game better than 9-8-1 Scottsdale. They’ll take on the Surprise Saguaros today and tomorrow before finishing up Week 4 on Friday in Scottsdale.

# # #

As noted in the comments, the AFL did not bother to pretend the Fall Stars game rosters were related to this season as they named Victor Robles to the East team as the sole Washington player on the roster. The game will be televised on MLB Network. There is no word on which announcers you will have to suffer through if you’re unwilling to mute your TV and/or put on closed captions.

AFL Update: Oct. 24, 2017

The Nationals’ top prospect returned to action with a bang last night, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored, two strikeouts, a walk, and a stolen base in a 5-2 Mesa win over Scottsdale.

Robles, the only National to appear in the game, was not hit by a pitch. Defensively, he made two putouts and fielded a double and a triple in center field.

The Solar Sox return home to rematch against the Scorpions this afternoon. Kyle McGowin is expected to start.

AFL/Offseason Update: Oct. 21, 2017

Daniel Johnson’s third hit in as many at-bats started the Solar Sox’s four-run rally to erase a 6-2 deficit to and walk off with a 7-6 win over the Saguaros.

Johnson also doubled in the 6th and singled in the 7th to finish 3-for-5 and raise expectations and scored twice. Defensively, he made just a single putout in left field.

Austen Williams was the only other National to appear in the game. He was the first man out of the Mesa ‘pen but after a scoreless 5th, he was dinged for a 430’ shot to left-center in the 6th and another solo shot in the 7th before he was lifted with two outs.

Williams gave up three hits total but struck out four over his two and 2/3rds innings of work.

Mesa returns to action with a Monday night game against Scottsdale.

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SYRACUSE CHIEFS SALE PRICE REVEALED
While this may not concern us for much longer, it is interesting to note what the Mets have offered for the Syracuse Chiefs: $18 million, which works out to about $1,400 per share. Not bad for some of the folks who bought them at $10 per. The upshot is that it’s difficult to believe that the Potomac Nationals, who do not have a lease for an NAPBL-compliant facility, are worth $20 million as was claimed during the latest windmill tilt this past summer.

THE POTOMAC NATIONALS
Most of the drama was off the field—for those wondering, the resolution is yet another waiver—as the P-Nats on the field were, to be blunt, a disappointment.

Even with Victor Robles and Daniel Johnson atop the lineup, the team had difficulty scoring (4.07 R/G) because there were lots of hot streaks but few of them were concurrent. Taylor Gushue, Kelvin Gutierrez, and Edwin Lora were all scorching the ball in April but then cooled considerably by mid-May, with Lora the most extreme flash-freeze as he went from a .362/.451/.551 April to .186/.226/.237 August. Only Gutierrez ever showed any signs of breaking out of his funk, but his roll was slowed by an ankle injury that took him out of the lineup from June 9 to August 21.

On the mound, the team boasted of an all-Dominican rotation that purported to boast of the team’s post-Smiley success but quickly turned into an MBA-like exercise of trying to squeeze some ROI out of a sunk cost. There were flashes of brilliance from Joan Baez and Jefry Rodriguez, which turned out to be chemically aided in the latter, and Wirkin Estevez did make the jump to AA (as he should have at the age of 25), but watching Luis Reyes and Hector Silvestre pitch was like watching Sisyphus and the boulder.

Perhaps more maddening was the organization’s insistence on signing washed-up pitchers to plug the holes caused by injuries. It’s one thing to go for a free agent to avoid having to make a social promotion from Hagerstown, but quite another to get a pitcher who is out of work after mid-May (read: not even good enough for the independent leagues). It’s what detectives might call a clue.

Thanks in large part to semi-decent relief pitching and older southpaws (Matt Crownover, Grant Borne) the team actually had slightly better than league-average pitching (4.21 vs. 4.26 R/G).

Like Auburn, it’s just a single, unranked list of players instead of a Top 5 list…

Joan Baez, RHSP 3-1, 1.88 ERA, 1.19 WHIP in August
Grant Borne, LHSP 2.50/3.01/1.10 in 14G, 10GS
Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B .288/.347/.414, 2HR, 3SB in 58G
Jakson Reetz, C .236/.327/.371, .986 FA, 39%CS rate
Victor Robles, CF .289/.377/.495, 17HBP, 16SB in 77G

…but I’m reasonably certain there’s no debate as to who would be #1.

As always, folks who would like to see the full team stats can find them here.

Offseason Update: Sept. 23, 2017

Fall arrived yesterday afternoon but we’ve yet to see the chill rains come. The big Nats are lurching towards the postseason, the drama reduced to who will make the postseason roster (a.k.a. who’s healthy enough to play) and how he’ll be used.

100 wins? Home-field advantage? Both possible but not probable. Even Stevie Wonder can see that Dusty Baker has been managing the club to minimize fatigue, which has prompted the knee-jerk comparisons to spring training.

But we’re here to talk/read about the minor-leaguers….

STATE OF THE FARM
As noted in the comments, the Nats were near the bottom of the collective standings with a .456 winning percentage, tied with the Mets. While it’s tempting to put that all on the Syracuse Chiefs, the worst team in AAA at 54-87, the Harrisburg Senators (60-80), Auburn Doubledays (30-45), and DSL Nationals (28-43) also “contributed.”

Unlike a year ago, we can’t point to the breakthrough of a new starter or position player or even a key reliever. It was supplying the “next man up” (my apologies, but DC is still a football town) for the bevy of injuries that have dogged this team/organization like they were wearing Milk-Bone underwear even more than last season, which was a lot.

There’s still some guys to be excited about, but the vast majority of them are in the lower minors, which means a lot of the buzz is based on things that are constant variables like their age or their draft position. And if we’re honest, there are roughly half a dozen guys that wouldn’t make a Top 30 list in most other organizations.

I can’t say that the organization isn’t still meeting the bare minimum requirements of developing talent that can be useful to the big club, albeit mostly in depth and trading chips. But I can say it’s not doing much else.

BA TOP 20 LISTS
I’m sure you’ve gotten over the shock of not a single Chief making the International League Top 20 for Baseball America, but you may be a little surprised that two Nationals farmhands made BA’s Eastern League Top 20 – Victor Robles and Erick Fedde.

About the only argument you can make against Robles is that he didn’t play enough, though BA – as it usually does – sets the bar very low: just one PA or ⅓ IP per team game for position players and starting pitchers (20 appearances for relievers). Personally, I’d set it at about twice those marks, except for the relievers; that does seem about right.

Fedde, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly dominant at any level this season. Yes, I know it’s not all about stats but I do believe the two are not mutually exclusive. I’d also have to question his placement since he split time between starting and relieving for Harrisburg. But incumbency is also a BA hallmark…

I’d expect Robles to make the Carolina League Top 20, and FWIW, Carter Kieboom does have the necessary number of PAs for the Sally Lg. so stay tuned this week.

THE WATCHLIST AND THE GBI
As noted a year ago, these have become more difficult to do. The system isn’t as deep as it used to be (or seemed to be) and all the losing tends not to produce the kind of numbers or streaks that are “G-worthy.” I had forgotten about my “note to self” to drop the GBI from every three weeks to monthly. That seems about right these days, and that’ll be the goal in 2018.

As for the watchlist, it may get shorter, but it’s a core part of the offseason ritual, and it’s how I get caught up on the short-season guys, so I don’t see it going away.

TRANSACTION UPDATE
We’re now in the re-signing season, where would-be FAs opt to stick around rather than try their luck elsewhere:
• RHP Brady Dragmire
• LHP Hector Silvestre
• IF-OF Khayyan Norfork

No huge surprises here. Dragmire was (finally) starting to pitch well at the end of the season. Silvestre turns 25 in December and has yet to pitch above High-A, but between Washington’s pitching-starved upper minors, and it’s “sunk-cost” approach to Dominican prospects, he might get that chance in 2018. Norfork has made a career thus far on his versatility, and let’s face it: He could be the next Adrian Sanchez.

THE DSL NATIONALS
Despite having a handful of players in their third DSL season, the team actually had a fairly normal blend of players in terms of age. Like a year ago, the batters were a shade older than league average (18.2 vs. 18.1) while the pitchers were slightly younger (18.4 vs. 18.7).

The offense was right around league average (4.65 R/G vs. 4.60) but the pitching was 35th in the 40-team DSL and nearly a run worse (5.49) per game. The defense was also right around league average (.955 FA vs. .956). All of this is sight-unseen, strictly numbers-based observation, so take it with a fistful of salt.

Without further comment, here are the obligatory Top 5’s, excluding “three-timers” and players who were old for the level…

TOP 5 BATS TOP 5 ARMS
1. Wilmer Perez, C/1B/DH
.288 GPA, 17-2B, 4-3B, 3HR
1. Alfonso Hernandez, LHSP
2.10/2.53/1.17, 9.86 K/9IP
2. Adrian Liriano, SS/2B
.242 GPA, 15BB
2. Rafael Gomez, RHSP
4.09/2.88/1.27, 1HR in 55IP
3. Landerson Pena, RF/LF
.244 GPA, 13SB
3. Joan Adon, RHRP
3.54/3.12/0.96, 9.96 K/9IP
4. Luis Aquino, SS/LF
.240 GPA, 19SB
4. Niomar Gomez, RHSP
4.07/3.17/1.27, 2.52 K:BB ratio
5. Caldioli Sanfler, CF
.237 GPA, 58 of 60G at CF, .984 FA
5. Pedro Gonzalez, RHSP
5.30/3.51/1.63, 12GS, 52⅔ IP, turned 17 in July

An honorable mention goes to Geraldi Diaz, the analog to Pedro Gonzalez. He also turned 17 in July and appeared in 41 games behind the plate with a .989 fielding percentage while hitting .001 below the .232 league-average GPA. Folks interested in seeing the entire team’s stats can find them here.

Victor Robles Gets the Call

No, I Said The White PhoneIn a move that surprised just about everyone except the talk-radio philistines, the Washington Nationals called up their #1 position prospect, Victor Robles.

On the other hand, the corresponding news that Brian Goodwin, the erstwhile 1st Rd. (supplemental) pick from 2011 who finally realized his potential this season, was likely done for the year should also come as no surprise in a season where everyone has gotten hurt for the big club.

I had concluded my penultimate MASN column with a elbow-to-the-ribs line about Robles. So when I saw Jeff Passan’s tweet around 3 o’clock this afternoon, I felt like Harris Telemacher in “L.A. Story,” joking about his wife cheating on him… only to find it out it was actually true.

Still, the Nationals also called up Andrew Stevenson and Rafael Bautista: two outfielders with both MLB and AAA experience, of which Robles has neither (but in fairness, he has more talent than the two multiplied). This is key because some folks immediately and mistakenly made the comparison to Trea Turner and Michael Taylor as late-season callups in the heat of a playoff race (more in a bit), which ignores how much more time they spent at AA (68G, 98G respectively vs. 35G) and AAA (48G, 12G, 0G). More astute folks reference Ryan Zimmerman, who also spent 0 games at AAA, or Anthony Rendon, though he was called up in the spring and was older than all but Taylor.

And let’s be honest: with a magic number that can be counted on two hands—one if you’re Antonio Alfonseca—there’s almost no pressure on the Nats right now. Perhaps that’s why the Nats are willing to start the arbitration clock early, although it’s very hard not to be cynical and wonder if he’s being showcased for another offseason trade (is there anyone left on the A’s we want?). I hope not; I’d much rather think this is a preview of things to come.

Last Night in Woodbridge

If you’re charitable, you’d call the 1-0 win by the Wood Ducks a pitcher’s duel; if you’re cruel, you’d call it a battle of who could hit less.

The two teams combined for just 13 hits – eight of them with two outs, which probably more than anything else explains the low score.

Both teams had just one leadoff hit. Ian Sagdal got the first in the bottom of the 2nd and was picked off immediately. Jack Sundberg followed with another single and David Masters steered him over to third on a two-out hit-and-run that might have scored Sagdal.

Down East got its in the 3rd and the runner moved up 90′ twice on a pair of groundouts before the lone hit in scoring position: a double by Matt Lipka that was justbarelyfair on the left field warning track and drove in the game’s only run.

The sequence made a loser out of Grant Borne, who was not overpowering (two K’s) but very democratic (11 groundouts) over seven innings. He walked one and gave up six hits total. Jorge Pantoja and Gilberto Mendez both turned in a scoreless inning and allowed a bunt single while pitching the 8th and 9th innings respectively.

After the three-hit 3rd, the P-Nats reached base just twice more: a two-out single by Sundberg and a two-out double by Victor Robles, who managed not to get hit and made an outstanding play in the outfield to gun down* Arturo Lara trying for two, which in fairness, he probably would have gotten against just about any other centerfielder in the Carolina League.
* The doubts I had about his arm late last year have been erased; he’s much stronger and more accurate this season.

The loss, Potomac’s 34th, also eliminated them from the Carolina League North’s first-half division title race. Game Three of the four-game series is tonight with Hector Silvestre (5-2, 4.55) facing off against RHP Jonathan Hernandez (0-1, 17.18) for the Wood Ducks.

Sunday’s News & Notes

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Lost, 4-3
(10 inn.)
vs. Lehigh Valley,
1:05 p.m.
McGowin (1-2, 5.79) vs.
Lively (5-1, 3.19)
Harrisburg Won, 5-3 @ Richmond,
12:05 p.m.
Long (3-4, 3.02) vs.
Johnson (2-2, 2.62)
Potomac Lost, 4-3
(15 inn.)
@ Lynchburg,
2:00 p.m.
Reyes (3-5, 5.36) and
Borne (0-0, 0.00) vs.
McKenzie (3-2, 2.56) and TBD
Hagerstown Lost, 4-3 vs. Lakewood,
2:05 p.m.
Bourque (0-2, 4.71) vs.
Paulino (1-3, 7.23)

Lehigh Valley 4 Syracuse 3 (10 inn.)
• Cole 5⅔ IP, 5H, 1R, 0ER, 5BB, 4K; 0-0, 2SAC
• Martin (BS, 2) 1IP, 4H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 0K
• Satterwhite (L, 0-1) 1IP, 1H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 0K, HR
• Stevenson 2-4, R
• Falu 2-4, RBI

Rafael Martin couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead in the 9th and Syracuse had no answer to either Lehigh Valley salvo in the 9th and 10th innings for another one-run loss in extras, 4-3. A.J. Cole labored through five and 2/3rds innings, issuing five walks and allowing five hits but let in just one unearned run. The IronPigs smelted Martin for two runs on four hits in the 9th to give the 33-y.o. journeyman his second blown save while Cody Satterwhite allowed a solo HR in the 10th to take the loss. Andrew Stevenson and Irving Falu both went 2-for-4 as the Chiefs collected eight hits in loss #25 of the season.

Harrisburg 5 Richmond 3
• Simms (W, 2-2) 6IP, 8H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 3K
• Brinley (H, 2) 2IP, 2H, 1R, 0ER, 0BB, 3K
• Suero (SV, 6) 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 2K
• Keller 1-3, 2R, 2BB
• Marmolejos 1-4, 2R, BB, HR, 3RBI
• Norfork 2-4, R

Jose “Orange” Marmolejos peeled off his first home run of 2017 and scored twice to lead the Sens to a 5-3 win over Richmond. John Simms evened up his won-loss record at 2-2 with a quality start of two runs on eight hits over six inning. Ryan Brinley let in an unearned run over two innings to get the hold while Wander Suero worked around a one-out double to earn his sixth save. Alec Keller reached bas three times with two walks and a single while Khayyan Norfork singled twice to lead the Harrisburg attack.

Lynchburg 4 Potomac 3 (15 inn.)
• Baez 2IP, 2H, 2R, 2ER, 3BB, 2K
• Mendez 5IP, 1H, 0R, BB, K
• Pantoja (L, 0-1) 2⅓ IP, 2H, R, ER, BB, 3K
• Robles 3-5, R, 3B, RBI*
• Davidson 3-6, R, 2B, RBI
*Unbunch your undergarments; it looks like he was removed for not running out a popup.

Just what was needed before 14 innings were scheduled for today: a 15-inning affair in which the Hillcats outlasted the P-Nats, 4-3. Joan Baez started and went the first two innings before play was halted for nearly an hour. Nolan Sanburn and Gilberto Mendez were both outstanding in long relief, combining for 10 innings of one-run relief, and Jorge Pantoja added two more scoreless before Lynchburg tagged him for the loss with a run in the 15th. Victor Robles and Austin Davidson both had three hits and an RBI in Potomac’s 15-hit parade that ended twice with runners thrown at home (Robles, 1st; Mejia, 11th).

Lakewood 4 Hagertown 3
• M. Mills 6IP, 2H, 0R, BB, 5K
• Held (BS, 1; L, 1-2) ⅔ IP, 4H, 4R, 4ER, 2BB, 2K, 0HR,
• Neuse 3-4, 2B, 2RBI
• Corredor 2-5, 2B, 2K

Hagerstown rallied for two in the bottom of the 8th to take a 3-0 lead and then gave it all back for a 4-3 loss and stop a modest three-game winning streak. The meltdown ruined six shutout innings by McKenzie Mills, who allowed just three baserunners and struck out five. Sam Held got the blown-save-loss as he retired just two of eight batters faced, allowing four hits and two walks. Sheldon Neuse, who delivered RBI hits twice, led the Suns’ hit column with a 3-for-4 night followed by Aldrem Corredor’s 2-for-5 effort.

Friday’s News & Notes

Team Yesterday Today Probable Pitchers
Syracuse Won, 1-0
(7 inn.); PPD
vs. Norfolk,
6:35 p.m.
Voth (0-1, 12.79) vs.
Wright, M (0-1, 7.71)
Harrisburg Lost, 1-0 vs. Bowie,
7:00 p.m.
Williams (1-1, 4.09) vs.
Scott (0-0, 1.50)
Potomac Won, 8-2 @ Lynchburg,
6:30 p.m.
Baez (0-1, 7.88) vs.
Chiang (1-1, 1.46)
Hagerstown Suspended,
0-0 (Top 2nd)
vs. Delmarva,
3:35 p.m.
C. Pena (1-0, 4.00) vs.
Humpal (0-1, 2.65)

Syracuse 1 Toledo 0
• J. Turner 1⅔ IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 2K
• Antolin (W, 2-1) 2IP, 2H, 0R, 0BB, 2K
• Bautista 2-3, R, CS
• Snyder 1-3, RBI, SB

A quintet of Syracuse pitchers made Brandon Snyder’s RBI single in the 1st stand up for 1-0 win in seven innings. Jacob Turner got the start and went an inning and 2/3rds with one hit allowed and two whiffs. Dustin Antolin followed with two scoreless for the win, Matt Grace got four outs for a hold, Trevor Gott pitched the 6th for a hold, and Austin Adams worked around a walk in the 7th for the save. Rafael Bautista singled twice and scored the lone run. Joey Butler got the fourth Syracuse hit. Rain postponed the second game until Monday, August 7th.

Hartford 1 Harrisburg 0
• Fedde (L, 1-1) 7IP, 5H, R, ER, 3BB, 8K; 1-2
• Lara 1IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 1K
• S. Kieboom 1-3
• Ward 1-4
The Yard Goats’ Yency Almonte outdueled Erick Fedde for 1 -0 shutout of the Senators. Fedde gave up the lone Hartford run on five hits and three walks over seven innings while striking out eight. Braulio Lara followed with two scoreless innings with one hit and one whiff. Harrisburg managed just five singles and one walk while striking out twelve times with no batter reaching base twice.

Potomac 8 Lynchburg 2
• Rodriguez (W, 1-1) 6IP, 7H, 2R, 2ER, 0BB, 8K
• Schepel (SV, 1) 3IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 4K
• Lora 2-3, 3R, 2B, SB
• Davidson 2-5, 2B, 5RBI, CS
• Agustin 1-3, SAC, 2R, 2B, 3RBI, SB

Austin Davidson drove in five while Jefry Rodriguez tossed six strong innings as Potomac beat Lynchburg, 8-2. Davidson connected for a three-run double in the 3rd, and a two-run single in the 9th as the P-Nats made the most of nine hits and three walks, with a little “help” from two Hillcats errors. Rodriguez gave up both Lynchburg runs on seven hits over six innings. He walked none and struck out eight while winning his first game. Kyle Schepel closed it out with three scoreless innings for the save, his first of the season. Roster move: OF Victor Robles placed on the 7-Day DL, retroactive to April 19; LHPs Taylor Guilbeau, Grant Borne reassigned to Auburn; RHPs Jorge Pantoja, Sam Held reassigned from Hagerstown; OF Jack Sundberg assigned from Extended Spring Training.

Hagerstown 0 Delmarva 0 – SUSP.
Thunder and lightning stopped the Suns-Shorebirds game with two outs in the top 2nd and a score—which a game always has—of 0-0. They’ll try to complete this one to nine innings this afternoon, then play a seven-inning game afterwards. Roster move: LHP David Ramos, RHP Steven Fuentes assigned from Extended Spring Training.