Instructional League Rosters — Final Thoughts

For me, looking at the instrux rosters is often a thumbnail sketch on the past draft and the GCL, which of course, until this year was usually a whole lotta “meh.” The last winning season was in 2009, which probably comes as no surprise since there was a sizable contingent from the 2008 DSL champions.

It bears repeating, so I will. The invites can be broken down into three categories:

1. Young
2. Changing roles or position
3. Working on a specific skill/pitch

Unlike years past, #1 is less relative and more actual. A year ago, there were nine that were 21 or younger; this year, nine of them are teenagers. Not much has been heard about any possible #2 scenarios, which at this point, is only noted for position players. Given that first base isn’t a deep position for the Nats (or anyone else, really, as scouts have been complaining about the lack of true 1B lately) don’t be surprised if any of the 3B or LF-types become converts.

No. 3 of course is arguably the most important and obviously the most nebulous. It’s also why scouts hate instrux. For example, a pitcher with a FB-CV-CH repertoire might not throw his curve at all because he’s working on his change. A small-ball guy might be told not to bunt at all (“We know you can do that, let’s work on what you gotta do when the bunt is off”). Thus, what they see is not a complete picture and not entirely accurate.

Getting an invite used to mean that player was definitely moving up. That, of course, was more true in the previous front office and when the parent club had major-leaguers that would be on the bench or on the AAA squad of most, if not all of the other 29 teams. Now, you can count on roughly half a dozen of these guys returning to where they left off.

That’s about it. To steal from another prospect follower, instrux is a lot like Vegas: what happens there, stays there. Last year, we were fortunate enough to get a couple of dispatches, which you can read here and here if you find yourself getting the shakes or anything like that.

The next planned post is a review of the 2013 Watchlist. As always, the goal at this point in the offseason is to periodically update the site as time (and content) allows until the AFL starts up. It’s one of the dead times of the year for us, but not unwelcome after the 12-week marathon when all seven affiliates are playing, not to mention a couple weeks’ worth of playoffs.

Instructional League Roster Notes – Position Players

Continuing where we left off on Tuesday, here’s the rundown of the position players that have been announced as participating in the Florida Instructional League, a.k.a. “Instrux”:

Player Pos. Age 2013 Team(s) 2012 Invite Notes
Spencer Kieboom C 22 GCL Y Missed most of 2013 due to TJ surgery on his throwing elbow.
Geoffrey Perrott C 22 AUB N 17th rd. pick out of Rice, where he was a backup to Craig Manuel
for three years, and a similar profile: glove-first, not much power.
Cole Leonida C 24 POT N Made decent gains across the board offensively, but seems
destined to be a backup unless he repeats Potomac.
Matt Reistetter C 21 AUB N Usually NDFAs are placeholders that rarely make it another
season, so this is quite an accomplishment.
Pedro Severino C 20 HAG Y Challenged with full-season ball at 19-going-on-20, the raw
defensive talent showed some signs of life on offense.
Osvaldo Abreu SS 19 GCL N Handled the GCL well while cutting his errors down. Having
played SS nearly exclusively, the gut says he may make it to
Low-A ahead of the Auburn guys…
Wilmer Difo SS 21 GCL, AUB,
Y …which includes Wilmer Difo, who played at three levels of A
ball plus the GCL. Showed flashes of brilliance w/ Potomac,
so his invite may mean he’s not topped out yet.
Anderson Franco 3B 16 N/A N Franco was the big fish the Nats caught in the 2013 IFA derby.
Defense and power are his hallmarks so the big what-if is
whether he can hit. At 16 and a $900K bonus, he’ll get LOTS
of chances.
Cody Gunter 3B 19 AUB N 6th rd. JuCo pick out of TX with a strong arm, raw power and
a patient plate approach, but 20E’s in 59G, subpar range
and speed could ticket him to 1B sooner rather than later.
Jason Martinson SS 24 POT, HBG N Still an intriguing combination of athleticism and power but
time is running out (turns 25 next month).
David Masters SS 20 AUB N 14th rd. JuCo pick out of AZ, he’s said to have above-avg.
range and a strong arm (on a SS? how novel) but is below-
avg. on the basepaths and at the plate.
Bryan Mejia 2B 19 GCL N Like Abreu, Mejia has played almost exclusively at 2B and
adjusted well going from the DSL to the GCL.
Stephen Perez SS 22 HAG Y First full, healthy season since 2011. If he’s made the strides
developmentally, he’ll be the SS for Potomac in 2014.
Shawn Pleffner 1B 24 HAG Y Injuries have dogged Pleffner from Day 1 (missed all of ’11), but
when healthy he has produced.
Tony Renda 2B 22 HAG Y 2nd Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Univ. of California, Renda put up
another strong season and, along with Pleffner and Perez,
seems ticketed for Woodbridge next summer.
Drew Ward 3B 18 GCL N 3rd rd. pick out of Leedey, HS (Leedey, OK, pop. 440), Ward
transitioned from the preps to pros without skipping a beat.
James Yezzo 1B 21 AUB N 7th rd. pick from Univ. of Delaware, Yezzo is a 1B-only
lefthanded slugger with power and patience that the Nats
hope to develop to offset his lack of speed/range.
Isaac Ballou OF 23 AUB, HAG N 15th rd. pick out of Marshall, Ballou was the sole first-year
position player to earn a promotion from Auburn to Hagerstown.
Rafael Bautista OF 20 GCL N One of the “DSL Guys” on the 2013 Watchlist, Bautista was a force
on the GCL squad with a 26 SB’s and a .791 OPS
Billy Burns OF 24 POT, HBG Y Nats 2013 POTY who’s gotten a lot of press early in the offseason.
Randy Encarnacion OF 19 GCL N Played sparingly on a very talented GCL squad, but had tremendous
rate statistics of .349/.437/.523 while turning 19 in July.
Destin Hood OF 23 HBG Y Another injury-shortened season that fell short of expectations.
Hayden Jennings OF 20 GCL Y Improved his nos. across the board from 2012 to 2013, most
notably in cutting his K rate from ~40% to ~30%.
Brandon Miller OF 23 HAG, POT Y Struck out 164 times in 2013, but hit 20 HR, second to Walters (29).
Still learning the nuances of playing OF and isn’t the fleetest of foot.
Michael Taylor OF 22 POT Y The brilliance that was only sporadic in ’12 became nearly everyday,
in ’13 — especially on defense, where he’s become an elite defender
with a cannon arm (21 assists easily led the Carolina League).

Instructional League Roster Notes – Pitchers

In the midst of the minors playoff hubbub, MASN’s Byron Kerr published the 2013 Florida Instructional League rosters. With the end of the season, there’s now time to take a closer look, beginning with the pitchers:

Player Pos. Age 2013 Team(s) 2012 Invite Notes
A.J. Cole RHSP 21 POT, HBG N A breakthrough year for twice-coveted (’10 draft, ’13 trade)
starter, who may have had a better year developmentally
than Taylor Jordan.
Pedro Encarnacion RHSP 22 HAG Y Stayed put in Low-A for the whole season and made serious
improvements in his peripherals (HR, BB, K rates) from 2012
Lucas Giolito RHSP 19 GCL, AUB N Started slowly in GCL but found his stride. Don’t be surprised
if he’s held back in XST like Cole, Ray, Purke in ’14
Jacob Johansen RHSP 22 AUB, HAG N The Nats top draft pick in ’13, he’s the big-bodied, hard-
thrower that the Nats lust for and were not scared off by poor
college nos. or command issues.
Nick Lee LHSP 22 AUB Y Has moved up slowly and steadily, with much ado about the
jump in K’s (10.1) but not as much attention paid to the
corresponding rise in BB’s (3.0 to 4.3)
Brett Mooneyham LHSP 23 HAG, POT Y Still a work in progress but will get plenty of chances
because he’s still relatively young, still lefthanded, and
can still break 90 m.p.h. without max effort
R.C. Orlan LHSP 22 AUB N Missed 2012 with TJ surgery, put up decent numbers in his
first pro season, better when viewed through post-surgery
Travis Ott LHSP 18 GCL N 25th Rd. pick out of (*gasp*) a PA high school, turned 18
in late June. Tall, lean (6’4″, 170) but reportedly tops out
around 90 m.p.h.
Ronald Pena RHRP 21 HAG Y Began the year as a starter, but was shifted to the
bullpen where he had much better ratios and success.
Nick Pivetta RHSP 20 GCL, AUB N 4th. Rd. JuCo pick out of New Mexico, one of a handful
of multi-level pitchers, which is generally a good sign.
Robbie Ray LHSP 21 POT, HBG Y Like Cole, Ray rebounded from a horrific 2012 and got the
bump to AA where he adjusted well and actually improved his
control nos.
Luis Reyes RHP 18 DSL N Got promoted from the DSL to the GCL for one final start,
so clearly the Nats are interested in a longer look.
Jefry Rodriguez RHSP 20 GCL Y Three DSL guys were invited last year, but J-Rod (oh, hell no)
um, Rodriguez was the only one to make the leap stateside,
where he was a key cog in the GCL rotation.
Derek Self RHRP 23 POT, HAG Y Challenged with leap from AUB to POT but failed, and
was dropped down in the 2nd half. Hard-thrower that the
Nats seem determined to make into a late-inning option.
Hector Silvestre LHP 20 POT, GCL N Silvestre had something of a comeback year, finishing #2
for the G-Nats to Wander Suero in several categories, after
repeating the DSL in 2012.
John Simms RHP 21 GCL, AUB N 11th Rd. pick out of Rice, previous drafted by the Nats
in 2010 (39th). Used mostly in relief, but made two spot
starts late in the season for Auburn.
Wander Suero RHP 22 GCL N Just turned 22 (Sunday), but even 21 is a little old
for the GCL, where he dominated (1.65 ERA, 0.82 WHIP)
after spending three years in the DSL.
Blake Treinen RHSP 25 HBG, AUB N This year’s “old guy,” who’s coming off a late-season
injury and is probably just in attendance to check on
his mechanics and health, like Rob Gilliam a year ago.
Kylin Turnbull LHSP 24 POT, AUB, HAG Y Still tweaking the mechanics, Turnbull struggled early and had
to take two steps back (POT to AUB) before settling in and
finishing strong in Aug/Sep for Hagerstown.
Phillips Valdez RHRP 21 GCL N Got the bump to the GCL despite subpar nos. in the DSL in
2012, but performed well. Turns 22 in November, so…
Austin Voth RHRP 21 GCL, AUB, HAG N 5th Rd. pick out of the Univ. of Washington. Named to the
FIL prior to his last outing during the playoffs, which
reportedly ended due to injury.
Deion Williams RHSP 20 AUB, GCL Y Converted to pitching late last season, the former shortstop
is a (classic) project, plain and simple.

As in years past, the group tilts toward youth and inexperience — roughly two-thirds spent 2013 in the short-season leagues, four of the seven full-season guys were 22 or younger. I think most folks are going to be interested in how the GCL guys do next season (this will be true for the position players as well), especially there’s that nagging question of whether they broke out or was it a factor of age/experience. Unfortunately, we’re going to know until more than six months than now.

Finally, don’t get too hung up on who didn’t get invited. You can take a gander at the some of the pitchers invited last year and see some names that you might not remember seeing much this year, or at least not in a positive sense. FIL is simply a chance for the organization to spend some extra time teaching, (hence the name and the bevy of young/short-season guys).

Next post: The FIL Hitters.

Dispatches From Viera Instrux, Redux

Ed. note: Another on-the-ground report from frequent commenter TBRFan.
Yesterday’s game was not very good for the Nats’ farmhands, losing 7-0 to the Astros’ minor-leaguers.

The Nats were never seemingly in this game, and you could tell that they were ready to go home, as this was the last game of the instructional league program. Even the umpires were “late” to the show, pulling in on a utility vehicle through the centerfield wall at exactly 10 a.m., the players waiting on the field for them to show up. Since the bats did little or nothing, I’ll focus on the pitchers.

Taylor Jordan pitched the first two innings. He allowed two singles and a sacrifice fly that scored a run in the first. In the second, he gave up a double, with that runner scored on a crazy broken-bat single with flying shards of wood that almost cleaned out the entire Nats’ coaching staff, who were sitting in folding chairs outside of the dugout. The Nats were able to nail him trying to stretch it into a double. Jordan struck out the next two to finish his outing strong.

Robbie Ray pitched the 3rd and 4th innings, giving up a HUGE home run. The Houston batter put it about 30 feet past the 404 mark on the left-center field wall, nearly hitting the team bus while traveling through a bunch of palm trees. Ray also notched two K’s, with one coming when he was down in the count 3-0, and walked one.

Pedro Encarnacion pitched the 5th and 6th innings, giving up no runs and only allowing one single. He got a big caught-looking whiff in the 6th. The batter was not pleased and stood in the box for a good 10 seconds before slowly moving out.

Kylin Turnbull pitched in the 7th, and the wheels started to fall off the bus for the Nats — single, error, infield single, sacrifice hit… it just kept on coming as the ‘Stros tacked on their fifth run.

It got no better in the 8th with Michael Boyden pitching. He got two flyouts to start, then a double, a walk, and a two-run triple. It wasn’t pretty.

By the 9th inning, the sidearm pitcher Hollins came in and closed out the game, giving up a double to the first batter, but getting a fly ball that send the runner to third and then stranded him there with tapper back to the mound and a grounder to third.

As for hitting, as previously mentioned, the bats were mostly silent: two-out singles for starters Michael Taylor and Adrian Sanchez; a walk and a leadoff double for Randolph Oduber; a one-out single for Tony Renda in the 7th and a leadoff walk for Shawn Pleffner in the 9th.

For anyone that is a minor-league baseball fan, I still believe the instructional league is where you want to be. I was one of TWO fans, the other a retiree from Orlando – nice guy! Cheering is, well, not really needed –- if you let out a hoot or holler, EVERYONE hears you. Plus, there are no foul balls to be had. Players collect them up and throw them back on the field. Players not in the game? They shag foul balls, sing songs, mock the other players, run the radar guns, chat with other players, or play batboy (really)! Heck, they were mowing the grass today during the game. Imagine pitching to the sound of the leaf blower coming out of the tunnel.

For the purists/junkies, it’s almost like a “field of dreams” type of game. You see all the players you love, minus all the screaming kids, drunk fans, and people that are just disinterested in what’s going on. Today’s game had NO scoreboard, NO music, no concessions. If you don’t keep score, you’d have no idea the inning, score, anything. It’s just a game… and that’s the way (at least in my little world) it should be.

At the end of the game, the coaches gave a pep talk, told the players to clean out lockers and turn in their gear. And that was it… the players went out the same gate I did, and they walked the 200 yards to the training complex and went home. I was delighted to get a thank-you and a wave from a bunch of players that recognized me from the games I attend at Memorial Stadium. That’s why I keep coming, and cross my fingers for each of them to get a taste of the big leagues some day.

Dispatches From Viera Instrux

Editor’s note: Frequent commenter TBRFan is Florida and here are some observations from yesterday’s Nationals-Braves game, which the Nats won, 6-2

I showed up at noon for what I had been told was a 1 p.m. and it was already in the 4th inning. There were about five fans and eight-to-ten scouts; the rest were players and grounds crew. The most entertaining part of the day was the scoreboard crew (yes, this time there was a scoreboard!) playing Earth, Wind and Fire between innings, which drew rave reviews from the Nats coaches, who were saluting their caps to the booth and dancing on the field (Tony Tarasco, in particular, had the hips a-swingin’). A close second was the home plate umpire calling a balk on a Braves pitcher, and the Atlanta coaches from yelling from the dugout “it’s instructional league, let it go man!” which drew some chuckles.

So let’s get down to what I saw…
The Braves had NO names on their jerseys, and there were no rosters to be had. The inning I got there, a #50 for ATL was pitching, and he was throwing pitches so hard you’d think he was going to break the catchers hand. Control was good and within reason for this level.

Nick Lee was the pitcher in the top of the 5th, he got a groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout with a wicked hard* slider that froze the batter and got “ooohhh’s” from the minimal crowd. I was impressed with what I saw, considering Luke’s report of not Lee being a hard thrower. The catcher’s glove was popping from his pitches.*Original wording, and an excellent New England-style double adjective. Very smahht.

Batting in the bottom of the 5th, Tony Renda laid down a nice bunt to get to first. Mike McQuillan walked. Destin Hood doubled to score Renda while McQuillan took third. Kevin Keyes struck out swinging for the first out. Michael Taylor had a sac fly to center, then Caleb Ramsey walked. Raudy Read then grounded out to third to end the inning, the Nats now up 3-1.

In the 6th, Stephen Perez walked, then Wilmer Difo had a sacrifice bunt. Renda got a RBI ground-rule double over the right fielder’s head that was hit a TON, but Perez was stopped at third. Mcquillan got a sac fly to plate Perez, then Estarlin Martinez blooped double to left that drove in Renda. Keyes got a walk, which I like to see for the big guy, then Randolph Oduber came up and struck out to end the inning. The Nats scored twice in the inning to take a 5-1 lead.

It was Miller time in the 7th, as Brandon went into LF and Justin went behind the plate. Offensively, they walked and doubled to push the sixth and final Nats run across. After a strikeout, a walk put runners on 1st and 2nd, but a the Nats flew out and grounded out to strand two and go up 6-1. The eighth was also a 1-2-3 affair for the Nats.

After Lee, Casey Selsor pitched the 6th and part of the 7th. He gave a walk and a HR to account for the second Atlanta run and was pulled with one. Robert Benicasa followed, getting two quick outs to finish the inning. He struck out the first batter in the 8th, but then loaded the bases with a walk and two singles. Derek Self ended the threat with a double play to end the 8th but then proceeded to create a one-out jam of his own in the 9th with a hit batsman and a single before rolling two groundouts to end the game.

Justin Miller caught the last three innings of the game and had some the growing pains you’d expect from a convert to the position, but was otherwise serviceable. Keyes caught everything that was thrown his way. Surprisingly, there were no errors during the six innings that I saw.

Next up: the Nats vs. the Astros.

Instructional League Roster – Final Thoughts

Last week, the Nationals released the rosters for the Fall Instructional League (a.k.a. Instrux), which were broken down by pitchers and position players. Like much of the minors offseason, inferences are often drawn because the information is sparse and/or one-sided. As noted the past two years, the invites can often be categorized as follows:

1. Young
2. Changing roles or position
3. Working on a specific skill/pitch

No. 1 is, of course, relative. Nine of the 28 position players invited, for example, are 21 or younger; twelve are 23 or older. No. 2 is always interesting, especially when the player has risen to the full-season minors. Justin Miller is indeed being tried at catcher per Byron Kerr’s article on Saturday while lumbering big man Kevin Keyes is going to try to find a home at first base.

No. 3 of course is arguably the most important and obviously the most nebulous. Here, I can’t blame the club for holding its cards close to the vest, on the off chance that the weakness isn’t obvious. My guess is that this is especially true of the short-season guys where not only are sample sizes smaller, the odds of a scout having seen it are lower for the same reason. As noted two years ago, scouts aren’t keen on Instrux because the tinkering and experimenting can obscure the very things they may be looking for — a pitcher not throwing a given pitch in favor of working on another, for example.

In years past, getting an invite was a sign that the player was moving on up, but it’s not the guarantee it used to be. In 2010, all but one of the position-player invites moved up in 2011. Seven of the 2011 invitees did not. Perhaps that’s an anomaly, but I tend to think that with fewer opportunities at the top of the ladder as well as the struggles of Potomac and Harrisburg, we could see the same thing next spring. It’s become clear that the Rizzo front office has no qualms about using free agents to plug holes, even at the AA level.

Unfortunately, with no box scores released, the stories are few and far between from the FIL. There are 14 games between Friday, September 21 and Wednesday, October 10, according to this schedule I found online. We hope to have some dispatches towards the end from one of our commenters (TBRfan).

As always, I’ll do the best I can to keep the site populated until the AFL starts up. A review of the 2012 Watchlist is probably next up, and affiliation swaps are already starting to trickle out — the only drama is whether or not the Nationals will renew its PDC with Hagerstown, which is taking the unusual step of opening up Municipal Stadium to the public to demonstrate why renovation might not be an option in its quest to build a new stadium downtown.

Instructional League Roster Notes – Position Players

Continuing where we left off yesterday, here’s the rundown of the position players that will participate in the Florida Instructional League, a.k.a. “Instrux.”

Player Pos. Age 2012 Team(s) 2011 Invite Notes
Spencer Kieboom C 21 AUB N 5th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Clemson, Kieboom was touted as a glove-first, bat-second backstop but surprised on both counts with 9PBs and .362OBP, plus a knack for hitting with RISP.
Craig Manuel C 22 AUB N 10th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Rice, where he was a three-year starter, Manuel split time with Kieboom and produced very similar numbers. Not a lot of power, but bats lefthanded and makes contact.
Adrian Nieto C 22 GCL, HAG Y Power and patience both dipped from ’11 to ’12 in his third season with the Suns, but a career-high 78 games played.
Raudy Read C 18 DSL Y Made strong improvements in offense in his second DSL season (.493 OPS to .765).
Pedro Severino C 19 GCL Y Repeated the GCL with slight improvement to offensive production and moderately better defensive numbers.
Wilmer Difo SS 20 GCL Y Two-time watchlister but first-time at instrux, Difo repeated the GCL without much statistical improvement.
Cutter Dykstra 2B-SS 23 HAG N Rebounded from poor showing at High-A in ’11 but returned to Low-A to do it, though he showed much better judgment on the basepaths.
Ricky Hague SS-2B 23 HAG N Offensively very streaky, but proved the doubters wrong about his ability to handle 2B, adding to his versatility.
Jeff Kobernus 2B 24 HBG Y Was on pace to match or beat his ’11 production in nearly every category before a pitch to the ribcage ended his season.
Mike McQuillan UT 22 GCL, AUB N 33rd Rd. Pick in ’12 out Univ. of Iowa, McQuillan hit his way out of the GCL and was Auburn’s leadoff man at season’s end.
Stephen Perez SS 21 GCL, AUB N Injuries limited the 8th Rd. Pick in ’12 out Univ. of Miami to just 28 games and could force a repeat at Auburn.
Shawn Pleffner 1B 23 AUB N Injuries delayed the debut of the Nats 26th-Rd. Pick in ’11 until this year, when he became an NYPL All-Star for Auburn.
Tony Renda 2B 21 AUB N 2nd Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Univ. of California, the knee-jerk comp is to Dustin Pedroia though he’s yet to show that kind of power.
Adrian Sanchez 2B 22 POT Y Gave up switch-hitting and finished the season strong, but needs to work on his defense and baserunning
Matt Skole 3B 23 HAG, POT Y Like Aaron Barrett, Skole is in Viera for some fine-tuning before heading out to Arizona for the AFL.
Zach Walters SS 23 POT, HBG, SYR Y Walters hit well at A+ and AA and struggled some at AAA, but the next challenge is cutting down the E’s (29).
Billy Burns OF 23 HAG Y Learned to switch-hit last fall, and improved his production across the board in ’12.
Destin Hood OF 22 AUB, HBG Y Injuries curtailed his 2012 after a breakout 2011 season, nearly a sure bet to repeat AA.
Hayden Jennings OF 19 GCL Y 6th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Evangel Christian Academy HS in L.A., Jennings is generally praised for his speed and defense, but is a project with the bat.
Kevin Keyes OF 23 POT Y Tremendous power, serviceable defense, but whether he can learn to hit for average and cut down the K’s are the big questions for ’13.
Estarlin Martinez 1B-OF 20 AUB Y Martinez appears to be settling into LF but still plays 1B, which is progress because most folks are worried about the D, not the O.
Narciso Mesa OF 20 AUB Y Made a quantum leap on offense, albeit in a small sample of 31 games going from .559OPS to .791OPS.
Brandon Miller OF 22 AUB N A catcher in college, but strictly played OF for Auburn, where injuries limited the 4th Rd. pick in ’12 out of Samford to just 29 games.
Justin Miller OF 23 HAG N Miller earned a watchlist spot with a strong ’11 in Auburn, but the production fell off in his first full season.
Randolph Oduber OF 23 POT Y Oduber has the tools in the outfield, but has struggled to stay healthy enough to play there consistently the past two seasons after terrific debut in 2010.
Caleb Ramsey OF 23 HAG Y A ‘tweener that continues to pleasantly surprise, developing some pop while slicing his K rate nearly in half.
Steven Souza OF 23 HAG, POT Y Despite another position change (1B to OF), the longtime farmhand broke out in ’12 with career highs in nearly every offensive category, finishing 3rd in the organization with 23HRs.
Michael Taylor OF 21 POT Y Taylor faded in August, but showed flashes of brilliance on both offense and defense in his second full season in the outfield.

Instructional League Roster Notes – Pitchers

As noted yesterday in the comments, the Nationals have released their 2012 Instructional League Roster. Here’s a quick look at the pitchers. Next post will be on the position players.

Player Pos. Age 2012 Team(s) 2011 Invite Notes
Dixon Anderson RHSP 23 GCL, HAG N Missed all of ’11 with surgery, struggled with control in brief stint w/ the Suns
Aaron Barrett RHRP 24 HAG, POT N Fine-tuning before going to the AFL. Decent showing in Potomac late in the season.
Joel Barrientos LHRP 19 GCL N Added to 2012 Watchlist after strong rookie season in DSL, no soph./stateside slump.
Robert Benincasa RHRP 22 AUB N 7th Rd. Pick in ’12 with low-90s sinking FB/SL combo, likely working on split or changeup.
Michael Boyden RHRP 22 GCL, AUB N 31st Rd. pick in ’12 out of U Md. Like Anderson, struggled with BB rate after bump from GCL.
Pedro Encarnacion RHSP 21 HAG, AUB Y Challenged with Low-A but fell back to SS-A, the 2nd straight season he’s dropped down a level.
Wirkin Estevez RHSP 20 HAG, GCL Y Time is still on his side, but 2012 was a definite step backwards.
Robert Gilliam RHSP 24 HBG, POT N The oldest pitcher in instrux, still best known as the “other guy the Nats got” in the Gio Gonzalez trade.
Leonard Hollins RHRP 21 GCL, HAG N 29th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of FL JuCo but not much else to write (here) about
Taylor Jordan RHSP 23 AUB, HAG Y Innings limited by T.J. surgery last summer, Jordan is straddling the line between prospect and project.
Nick Lee LHSP 21 AUB N Not hard thrower, but he’s lefthanded and scouts love his changeup.
Brett Mooneyham LHSP 22 AUB N 3rd Rd. ’12 Pick out of Stanford that nearly every prospect guru has a “yeah, but” thanks to inconsistency with his mechanics.
Elisaul Gomez LHP 20 DSL N DSL guys have been rare the past couple of years, so an invite tends to carry more weight.
Emmanuel De La Cruz RHP 20 DSL N On the flip side, about all there is to know is what you can infer from tiny samples of states.
Ronald Pena RHRP 20 GCL, AUB N 16th Rd. Pick out of Palm Beach St. JuCo (pitched for College of Charleston in ’11), Pena is a big (6-4, 210) hard-throwing (mid-90s) project.
Ivan Pineyro RHSP 20 GCL, AUB Y 2012 Watchlist player that’s easing up the ladder, though it looks like he may repeat Auburn
Brian Rauh RHSP 21 AUB, HAG N 11th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Chapman Univ. (D-3, CA) was one of two ’12 picks to make it to Low-A.
Robbie Ray LHSP 20 POT Y He’s still young and lefthanded, but a slight fade late in 2011 and free fall from mid-July 2012 on has to have folks wondering.
Jefry Rodriguez RHRP 19 DSL N The youngest player on the roster, having just turned 19 in July and put up LaLoosh-
like nos. in the DSL (43IP/33BB/35K).
Blake Schwartz RHSP 22 GCL, HAG N 17th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Okla. City Univ. (NAIA) Schwartz’s hallmark is control (2.0BB/9IP), which, of course, you probably already know means that he doesn’t throw in the mid-90s (88-92).
Derek Self RHRP 22 AUB N 9th Rd. Pick in ’12 out of Univ. of Louisville, Self does throw hard (92-95) but doesn’t get the K’s (6.8/9IP) or miss the bats (33IP/32H) the way you’d expect with that kind of velocity.
Casey Selsor LHP 22 GCL N A two-way player drafted in the 23rd Rd. out of Univ. of Texas-San Antonio, Selsor split time between starting and relieving and even got
a couple of starts as a position player.
Kylin Turnbull LHSP 23 GCL, HAG Y Turnbull was effectively sent down to the GCL in mid-July to presumably work on mechanics after 17 uneven starts, returning to Hagerstown for one Sept. relief appearance.
Deion Williams RHP 19 GCL Y Williams is a convert to pitching after failing as an infielder (.147BA, 11E in 30G) and made two scoreless appearances late in the season.

The roster is heavily tilted towards the 2012 draft with three DSL guys versus one last year. It’s tempting to talk about how young this group is, but let’s not forget how these guys collectively fared in their first go ’round as pros. The Auburn Doubledays finished 12th in runs allowed and 13th in ERA. The GCL Nationals weren’t much better, finishing 10th in runs allowed, 9th in ERA. The usual caveat of small sample size obviously applies (hey, that rhymes!) as well the notation that these guys were among the best of those staffs, but it shouldn’t be glossed over, either.

As for the concept of omission, I don’t believe too much should be read into who wasn’t invited. This isn’t necessarily the analog to accelerated minor-league camp. Most of the notables that weren’t can be categorized — been shut down (e.g. Nathan Karns, Alex Meyer), suffered in-season injury (e.g. Matt Swynenberg, Chris McKenzie), had surgery (e.g. Lucas Giolito, Sammy Solis), under witness protection (e.g. Manny Rodriguez, Matt Purke)*.

Take it for what it’s worth: The next wave of pitchers that the front office wants to spend some more time with before they’re dismissed for the winter.
*That’s a joke, folks

Instructional League Roster – Final Thoughts

Late last week, the invitees to the Florida Instructional League were announced, broken down by pitchers and position players.

One of our commenters (markfd) broke down the ’10 invites into three categories or buckets, if you will, and for ’11 it still holds water (dear Liza, dear Liza)…
1. Very Young
2. Changing Roles/Position
3. Guys That Need To Work On Specific Skill/Pitch

All but one of the position players moved up a level from 2010 to 2011. Russell Moldenhauer was the exception. Among the pitchers, the “spent time at multiple levels” exception still holds true (Danny Rosenbaum, Trevor Holder, Rob Wort) but with the influx of DSL talent and more importantly, the organization getting younger, there were more repeats at the short-season/rookie levels (DSL, GCL, NYPL).

Overall, there were 20 repeats from 2010 to 2011 — 12 position players, eight pitchers. Like last year, nearly all of the newbies are 2011 draftees or DSL rookies. The exceptions? Nathan Karns, Jack McGeary, Chris McKenzie, Elvin Ramirez, Cameron Selik, and Matt Swynenberg. All but the last two were injured or have missed significant time due to injury.

I think folks need to be careful reading too much into who’s not on those two lists because not being invited is not necessarily an indictment. Josh Smoker, for example, probably didn’t go back because the organization has seen enough from him in 2011 and believes he’s on track for 2012. Likewise for Roberto Perez in Auburn. And of course, there’s always the explanation of injuries, for which we have little information and the organization shares very sparingly.

Unfortunately, stories out of the FIL are few and far between. Last year, we were fortunate enough to have one of our readers issue a couple of dispatches, and of course, Bryce Harper made an appearance. Stephen Strasburg has been mentioned as possibly making some appearance for a week or two, which is probably our best hope of anything, given our budget and the biases of the traditional media outlets on which I have to rely for anything I can’t see in person.

As I did last offseason, I’ll try pass along whatever information I come across, FIL or otherwise, until the Arizona Fall League starts. In the meantime, as VladiHondo said: Let’s enjoy watching “our kids” in DC this September.

Over The Weekend In Viera

So what’s it like to see a game or two in the Florida Instructional League?

With web traffic being what it is, I’m republishing TBRfan’s comments on the games she saw in Florida so more folks can see this first-person, eyes-on-the-ground account…

Hello all— got to watch the instructs game vs. Detroit today…

Oduber had an interesting fielding day in center, seemingly misjudging balls. But in his defense, the sun was wicked bad and two of the hits were tailing away. He really reminds me of Justin Maxwell.

Bryce Harper looks to me like the real deal. Didn’t have many balls hit to him, but his arm is strong and accurate. Played good backup defense to Oduber. He had a monstrous home run hit over the right field wall that probably carried 400+ feet. The right fielder just turned and watched.

J.P. Ramirez had a steady fielding game. Souza had his typical error-prone game. I just don’t know what the Nats see in him. Adrian Sanchez made some super plays at second. Catching was a platoon of Norris and… Can’t remember the name. Both catchers threw the ball well and tossed out runners at second and third.

As for batting… The team was shut down by the Detroit first round pitching prospect [Jacob Turner]. But my Lord: He was throwing smoke. None of the Nats came close to hitting that guy. He’ll be in the bigs for sure. Amazing pop of his pitches in the glove and incredible command.

The Nats “lost” 3-2 I am pretty sure. No scoreboard at all. Just the way I like it.

A few comments about yesterdays game: The score was actually tied 3-3 and it was a no hitter until the 7th for the Nats. After talking to a fan at today’s game that was at Lakeland last night, he had heard that Harper’s home run was one of the longest they had seen there in years and most agreed it was 430+ feet. The pitcher for Detroit was named Jacob Turner. Be looking for him in the majors. Now for today’s game, against the Astros…

Today didn’t treat the Nats that well and they lost by 8-3 or something close to that. Catching was a platoon of Flores and Leon. Flores looks really svelte… he’s been working out a lot. Both catchers had a good game behind the plate. Lombardozzi was at second and had a super game. At third was King. The not-so-funniest play of the game came in the top of the first. Grace was pitching and getting mildly rocked. A routine fly ball was hit to center and Eury Perez. And don’t you know? He dropped it, half-assing the catch with one hand. He was immediately pulled from the game and sent to a side field where he shagged fly balls from the machine for the remainder of the game. The coaches did not allow him back on the bench. The entire game all you could hear was Eury yelling “I got it” three times before he’d catch the ball. After that, I was impressed with the Nats coaching staff for making him an example.

Bryce Harper had a so-so game. Nothing real spectacular of note. Was steady in the field.

Pitching was Grace, Estevez, Navarro, Jenkins, Smoker, Morris. Grace was hit relatively easily by the Astros kids. Navarro wasn’t much better. Jenkins was pulled after only ⅔ inning and don’t know why. I was sitting next to three Nats pitchers and they didn’t really express any concern when he came out. Smoker was good except for a mammoth home run to left center. Now, A.J. Morris had it working…. good pitching and good command. The man behind me agreed that his stuff is good enough to get to the Nats next year.