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Thoughts on Keith Law’s organization and prospect rankings

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Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito is rising the ranks of prospects baseball-wide. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for prospect lists.

Every time I see an organizational ranking published (whether it be from BA/John Callis, BP/Jason Parks, ESPN/Keith Law, MLB/Jonathan Mayo, John Sickels or whoever, I put the rankings into a big spreadsheet and do comparison analysis (I’d publish on Google Docs it except that Law’s stuff is ESPN insider only and I wouldn’t want to get into trouble).   Every time any of these guys puts out organizational top 10s, I capture that too into one big file too.

So, this week is an exciting time because one of the leading prospect voices out there has published his annual rankings lists.  Keith Law published his System rankings 1-30 on 1/28/14 and published his Top 100 prospects list on 1/29/14.  The links themselves are ESPN-insider, which I believe is well worth the pittance of a cost per year just to get access to Law and Buster Olney‘s stuff (among others).

Law has our system ranked 18th this time around, a slight increase from last year’s ranking of 21.   In the five years that I’ve been capturing Law’s organizational rankings, this is as high as he’s had the system ranked believe it or not; his 2012 rankings (where Baseball America famously had us ranked #1) came out after the big Gio Gonzalez trade and thus we didn’t get the high ranking we would have expected (Law said he dropped the system from a top 5 ranking b/c of that trade).

So, how do we explain how the system went from #21 to #18 given all that has happened in the last year?   Borrowing from the comment I made at NationalsProspects.com when Luke Erickson noted the same Law publishing, lets analyze where we were in January 2013 versus now as a system:

In Law’s 2013 writeup for the team, he noted that he liked Washington’s top 5 prospects but that there was a significant gap afterwards.  Going back and looking at my notes, Law’s top 5 guys went:

  1. Anthony Rendon
  2. Brian Goodwin
  3. Lucas Giolito
  4. A.J. Cole
  5. Nathan Karns

Then the gap, then Law ranks 6-10 as went Matt Skole, Christian Garcia, Carlos Rivero, Matthew Purke and Michael Taylor. So, no mention of Taylor Jordan or Ian Krol, both of whom graduated and performed more than ably in the majors in 2013.  There was no mention of Robbie Ray, who Law never liked and never gave much credit to even when in 2011 he was out performing Cole in the low minors despite being the same age and same draft class, but who was regarded enough in Detroit to basically fetch a 4-win established MLB pitcher in Doug Fister.  There was no mention of Jeff Kobernus, who did get some MLB innings but isn’t considered a real prospect.  No mention of Nats minor league batter of the year Billy Burns (again, not really a prospect in lots of evaluator’s eyes).  No mention of Eury Perez as a top 10 candidate, and obviously no mention of Tanner Roark (who in January 2013 pretty much everyone saw as an organizational arm playing out the string to minor league free agency).  Law did say at the time that if Sammy Solis got healthy again he’d be back in the running for his top 100.  Amazingly Rivero, a waiver claim who ended the year demoted to AA, was his 8th best prospect for the system, quite an indictment.  Well, either that or a blind spot for Law, who is more impressed by tools in lower-minors kids than capabilities in prospects in the upper minors.

So, given that our top 10 last year in Law’s minds (in order):

  1. Rendon graduated to a starting job in the majors
  2. Goodwin struggled in a 2-level jump
  3. Giolito ably recovered from injury
  4. Cole impressed at AA after a promotion
  5. Karns made the leap to the majors but struggled
  6. Skole missed the entire season due to a freak injury
  7. Garcia missed basically the entire season with yet another injury
  8. Rivero was demoted to AA and is now a MLFA
  9. Purke pitched mostly a full season but did not dominate as expected
  10. Taylor impressed in high-A and was added to the 40-man

… and considering the litany of graduations/trades/exoduses out of the system (Rendon, Jordan, Krol, Ray, Rivero, Burns and Roark all ineligible for a 2014 analysis), how do you explain the fact that he thinks the system is basically treading water?

You have to think Law’s top 5 for the system now starts Giolito/Cole/Goodwin but then who knows where it goes from there.  I know from chat responses that Law is down on Purke now and that he didn’t ever really rate Jake Johansen or Drew Ward as 2013 draft picks.  Does Karns still qualify as a prospect?  Yes I believe so.   Solis came back and performed post injury but was he that impressive in 2013?

Perhaps Law’s thinking goes like this: he likes our top 3 prospects (clearly; Giolito, Cole and Goodwin all made Law’s minor league-wide top 100 list with Giolito at #21).  Law rates these top 3 guys as strong enough to make up for the graduations from last year.  Then there likely is a gap, then perhaps a small grouping of Karns and Solis, both of whom Law likes and both of whom he probably believes would make either #5 starters or good bullpen guys.  Then after that a grab bag to include Skole, Taylor, Perez and perhaps a couple guys from our 2013 draft class (Austin Voth?).  The problem with the back side of this theoretical top 10 list is that it includes a slew of players who were hurt or who treaded water in 2013.

What do you think?  And if your answer is some variation of, “Todd you spend too much time over-analyzing prospect lists and you just proved your own point by showing that a guy like Taylor Jordan can go from high-A to a MLB-average ERA+ and never appear on anyone’s prospect lists therefore prospect lists are useless” …. well I’m not going to argue against you that vociferously :-)  I’d probably respond by saying something to the effect of, “Its frigging january, what else are we going to talk about?”

2014 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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Mr. Detwiler's 2014 assignment will have cascading effects for MLB and AAA.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

Mr. Detwiler’s 2014 role will have serious cascading effects for MLB and AAA. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via federalbaseball.com

OK here we are.  We did seven comprehensive pitching staff reviews (the GCL review is here, which has links to the other 6 reviews) in order to arrive at this post.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m predicting for all seven systems right now, absent any more deals (like say for a MLB lefty or another starter or trading a closer to Chicago):

 MLB Level

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann, Fister, Detwiler (L)
  • MLB Bullpen: Soriano, Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Blevens (L), Ohlendorf, Roark
    MLB out of Org: Haren, Duke (L), Abad (L), Krol (L), HRodriguez

Discussion: the 5th starter competition could shake out so many different ways, that it almost is not worth predicting.  I can see any of the following scenarios playing out:

  • Detwiler gets one last shot at the 5th starter as the incumbent, pushing Jordan to AAA and Ohlendorf/Roark to the bullpen (my current prediction).
  • Jordan wins the 5th starter, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen as a power lefty by virtue of his lack of options.  This would push (likely) Roark to AAA.
  • Roark wins the 5th starter, continuing his blistering sub 2.00 ERA pace from September, pushing Detwiler to the bullpen and Jordan to AAA.
  • Less likely, Karns wins the 5th spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen and Roark & Jordan to AAA.
  • Even more less likely, Ohlendorf wins the spot, which pushes Detwiler to the bullpen but lets Roark stay as the long man/spot-starter.
  • Mike Rizzo shocks us again with another starter acquisition; Detwiler goes to the bullpen, Ohlendorf stays as long man, and Roark & Jordan are in AAA.

Why am I predicting Detwiler will win the rotation spot?  Partly because of options, but partly because I’ve sort of come back around on him after looking more closely at his 2013 season.  He had a decent to good 2012; he posted a 118 ERA+ and even if his advanced FIP/SIERA didn’t indicate he was quite that good, he was still more than a servicable 5th starter.  Then in his first seven 2013 starts he was also very good (he had a 2.53 ERA in his first 7 starts and 42 2/3 innings … he got hurt in his 8th start).  The rest of his season was a mess, with him fighting injury and ballooning his seasonal ERA from 2.53 to more than 4.00 in five more starts.   If he comes back healthy to start 2014, why wouldn’t we expect more of the same performance that he had at the start of 2013?  For these two reasons, I think Detwiler breaks camp as the 5th starter.  Now …. I have zero confidence that he’ll remain healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation, but that’s a problem for another day.  And a problem for which this team has plenty of coverage.

Another scenario that could affect this predition: Rizzo acquires yet another lefty reliever (latest rumors were about Scott Downs before he signed elsewhere, but I’m sure a trade could be arranged), which complicates any of these predictions because it means one less spot for either Ohlendorf or Roark.  For a team that seems so obsessed with left-handed relievers, we sure have let a bunch of them go in recent years (Duke, Abad, Krol this year, Gorzelanny, Lannan, Burnett and Gonzalez last year).  Maybe we should just hang on to one or two of these guys?  I will say this: I do NOT believe that the Nats will choose Xavier Cedeno and his 6 2013 MLB innings for the Nats over Roark just because he’s left handed at this point.

Personally, I think Roark and Ohlendorf pitched like big leagers last year and deserve to stay in the majors until they prove otherwise.  Ohlendorf’s recent $1.25M deal seems to indicate he’s more likely to stick than Roark, but perhaps the long-man/spot starter competition is open as well.  This pushes previous stalwards in the bullpen (specifically Ryan Mattheus ) to AAA.   I will say this though: if you expect to win, you have to go north with your 25 best guys no matter how much they make or their option status.  And at the end of last year, that undoubtedly included Tanner Roark.  So thats why I’m going with Roark in the pen to start the season.

One other wrinkle; does Rizzo trade one of Storen or Clippard to Chicago, who desperately needs a closer?  This seems less likely, especially for a team that has World Series aspirations, but the truth is this team is paying a LOT of money into its bullpen ($25M and counting), has three closer-quality guys, and potentially a log jam of righties (see the AAA bullpen prediction for more).  I see this as less likely unless Chicago sends back pieces that we really need, but rumors get started because GMs are talking, so maybe this still happens.  But if a guy like that is traded, then that re-opens a slot for the deposed Mattheus or possibly the newly healthy an electric Garcia.   I think these are lesser possibilities and both those guys are pushed to AAA to begin the season.

I’m sure this section garners plenty of discussion; have at it in the comments :-)

AAA Level

  • AAA Rotation: Jordan, Karns, Rosenbaum (L), Young, MLFA or two?
  • AAA Bullpen: Barrett, Mattheus, Garcia, Davis,  Cedeno (L), Robertson (L), Herron (AA?), Alfaro, Stange, Delcarmen
  • AAA Release candidates: Meyers, Lehman
  • AAA out of Org: Maya, Tatusko, Clay, Mandel, Torra, Broadway, Crotta, Lowe, Kimball, Accardo, Bramhall, Romero (L)

Discussion

So, the projected AAA rotation has one hold over in Rosenbaum, two “promotions” in Jordan and Karns, and then a whole bunch of question marks.  Is Chris Young healthy enough to pitch this year?  Is Brad Meyers?  Right now i’ve got Meyers as a release candidate, figuring that he hasn’t been healthy in two years and may be finished.  I have to think that the team will give a couple of lower-level free agents minor league contracts to try to pitch their way back into the league, much as they have done with the likes of Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf and Young in the last couple of off-seasons.  There’s plenty of guys out there who may make sense; a quick glance at the current list of free agents offers intriguing names (think of someone like a Joe Saunders or a Barry Zito or an Aaron Harang; do you think these guys are getting guaranteed contracts for 2014?).  I’m predicting that at least one or two of these types of guys get MLFA deals and end up in the AAA rotation, though I suppose at least one guy i’m projecting from the AA rotation could start in AAA.

The AAA bullpen has a couple of MLB-quality arms in Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia who we know can contribute at the MLB level but who end up here because of a numbers game at the big club.  The AAA closer likely is Aaron Barrett, newly added to the 40-man and looking to make his mark.  Erik Davis is here, who I kind of soured on last season but his numbers in small MLB samples were good and I think he can contribute in a Craig Stammen sort of way going forward.  We have a couple of hold-over loogies in Xavier Cedeno and Tyler Robertson, the latter of which successfully passed through waivers and was outrighted to Syracuse last month.   We already have three off-season MLFA signings (Gabriel Alfaro, Daniel Stange, Manny Delcarmen) who all project as righty middle relievers, making it seemingly less likely that the team will retain some of its own MLFAs (the likes of Ryan Tatusko and Jeff Mandel being longer serving Nats minor leaguers who pitched decently in 2013).

But as you can see there’s more candidates here than there is room on the Syracuse roster (10 for 7 spots, and that’s assuming that Pat Lehman doesn’t make the cut either).  There will be injuries and D/L stints among these guys, but there may also be some releases next March.

Still, a AAA rotation led by Jordan and Karns (and possibly Ohlendorf and/or Roark if another move is made at the MLB level) leaves Syracuse with a pretty good staff to start the season.  And I like the fact that we have one reasonably accomplished MLB starter (Jordan) waiting in the wings to go along with a guy who might get there soon (Karns), to go with potentially a couple other former major league guys who are working their way back.

AA Level

  • AA Rotation: Cole, Hill, Solis (L), Schwartz, Treinen (AAA?)
  • AA Bullpen: Benincasa, Mirowski, Holland,  Swynenberg, Grace (L), Bates, KPerez, Gilliam (swingman), Spann (L)
  • AA release candidates: Perry, Selik, Demny, RMartin
  • AA out of Org: Broderick, Ray, McCoy, Frias, Holder, Bray

Discussion

We’ll see this trend again and again; despite the fact that the likes of A.J. Cole and Taylor Hill reached AA last year, the organization seems to like seeing these guys “beat the level” a second season in a row before moving guys up.  And so I see these guys in AA again.  Sammy Solis here is no surprise; he’s nearly 26 and has been mentioned as a MLB bullpen candidate already.  Meanwhile for the time being i’ve got Blake Treinen here, repeating the level, but can also see him moving up to AAA.  His numbers were good but not *that* good last year, and I left him in AA assuming that the team will try out some re-treads in the AAA rotation.  Lastly Blake Schwartz gets a deserved promotion after leading Potomac in IP, wins and starts last year.

In the bullpen I think Robert Benincasa is your closer to start, with Richie Mirowski and Neil Holland continuing to put up dominating late-innings relief.  All three guys should be pushing for promotions to AAA.  We’re a little light on lefties here admittedly.  A couple of injury-prone guys in Ryan Perry and Cameron Selik are listed as release candidates in the face of a number of guys meriting placement here.  Paul Demny and Rafael Martin have been around forever and may also be release candidates at this point, but they also could (at least in Demny’s case) convert to relief and try to rekindle their careers.  Lastly, there’s newly acquired Matthew Spann, the bounty for the Nats gambit on David Dejesus near the end of last season.   He’s a lefty who looks like he could start but i’ve got him in the bullpen for now.

High-A Level

  • High-A rotation: Purke (L), Anderson, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull (bullpen?) (L)
  • High-A bullpen: Wort (AA?), Holt (AA?), Fischer, Henke, Mendez, Harper (L), Davis, Thomas (L), RPena (swingman), Dickson (swingman)
  • High-A release candidates: Dupra, Rauh (starter?), Meza (L)
  • High-A out of org: Pineyro, Hawkins

Discussion

I don’t think there’s too many surprises in this rotation: Matthew Purke leads the line and should push for a promotion mid-season.  If he doesn’t dominate High-A at this point it may be time to think about moving him to the pen.   The same can be said about Brett Mooneyham and especially Kylin Turnbull, two guys who (by now) should have accomplished this level.   Otherwise the rest of this projected rotation are three guys who succeeded in Low-A in 2013: Dixon AndersonPedro Encarnacion and Dakoda Bacus.

In the bullpen, at this point i’m not sure who the closer candidates are to start the season.  Perhaps Greg Holt starts in the role.  Perhaps low-A phenom Gilberto Mendez gets a shot at closing.  Both Holt and Rob Wort may belong in AA at this point; Wort began 2013 there but there’s a lot of relievers in that AA section who would have to get hurt/be released to make room for these two guys right now.  There’s a couple of decent swingmen candidates here in Ronald Pena and Ian Dickson both started for long stretches in Hagerstown and could be useful guys in Potomac.    There’s a lot of names in the mix here for this bullpen; from here on down there could be plenty of releases come the end of spring.

 

Low-A Level

  • Low-A rotation: Giolito, Johansen, Voth, Lee (high-A?) (L), Orlan (L)
  • Low-A bullpen: Self (high-A?), Selsor (swingman), Ullmann, Pivetta, Simms, Hollins, Napoli (L), Bafidis (L), Suero (swingman), Valdez, Walsh (L), Aries
  • Low-A release candidates: Joyce, Waterman, Boyden
  • Low-A out of org: McKenzie, Smith

Discussion

I like this rotation, a lot.  Two of our best prospects, a third guy in Austin Voth who impressed last year, a guy in Nick Lee who probably deserves a high-A rotation spot and then Auburn’s staff leader in Robert Orlan.  Jake Johansen may find himself needing a promotion quickly, if he’s all that he’s cracked up to be.

The bullpen is going to be tough; basically every college aged short-season guy who pitched well in 2013 is named in this bullpen competition.  There’s a couple of interesting DSL graduates in Wander Suero and Phillips Valdez, some big arms in Ryan Ullmann and Nick Pivetta, and some polished college-aged lefties in David Napoli, Cory Bafidis and Jake Walsh.   I have 15 names here for 7-8 spots; Viera’s extended spring training could be busy this year.

 

Short-A Level

  • Short-A rotation: Barrientos, JRodriguez, Silvestre (high-A?) (L), and then 2013 draftees and/or drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A bullpen: DWilliams, Cooper, KRodriguez, Derosier, Webb (L), Spezial (L), 2013 draftees and drop-downs from Low-A
  • Short-A release candidates: Sylvestri, Grisz
  • Short-A out of org: Hudgins, Simko, Dicharry

GCL Level

  • Rookie Rotation: Ott (L), 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie bullpen: RLopez, 2013 draftees and DSL graduates
  • Rookie release candidates: DRamos, MRodriguez

Discussion

Its frankly impossible to predict the short-season squads, since (especially Auburn) they exist to park newly signed draftees.  However, I do see a ton of guys who competed and succeeded in the GCL this year who won’t necessarily make the Hagerstown squad, and I see them forming a good chunk of the Auburn squad.   The rest of the Auburn squad will be populated with upper-end 2014 draftees and losers from the Hagerstown pitching staff competition.  More of the same with the 2014 GCL squad, which was heavily tilted with DSL graduates this year.  The Nats tend to focus on college arms and thus only small college guys are generally put in the GCL in their draft year.

GCL/Rookie Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Giolito was the story of the GCL for the 2nd straight year.  Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Giolito was the story of the GCL for the 2nd straight year. Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

This is the 7th and final in the 2013 Pitching staff review series.  I don’t like double posting stuff this comprehensive but I wanted to get this out before the w/e.  This is the review of the GCL/Rookie league’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Lucas Giolito was the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Jack McGeary the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Auburn/Short-A.  Yes, Giolito was the GCL “man of the year” for the second year in a row.  This may be unfair to many of the DSL grads who pitched great for the GCL this year, especially the likes of Jefry Rodriguez and Wander Suero.  Also; good luck finding a picture of Jefry Rodriguez to use for your blog; any google search with “Rodriguez” and “baseball” is so over-inundated with pictures of more famous Rodriguez’ (Alex, Ivan, even Henry) that I gave up looking.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s GCL’s 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s GCL 2013 page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

A caveat before starting this post: this is short-season ball, so nobody’s got more than a few dozen innings.  The staff leader had 49 innings.  So yes this is absolutely going to be some “Small Sample Size” analysis.  Which in some cases is unfair to the player (to the good or to the bad).  It is what it is.

GCL starters.  The rotation started the season with Suero, Jefry Rodriguez, Silvestre, Voth and Valdez.  It ended with JRodriguez, Silvestre, Suero, Ott and a slew of 5th/6th starters here and there.   Lets take a look at the starters:

  • Wander Suero dominated the GCL this year, throwing lots of 4-5 innings outings in relief of other “starters” and leading the team in IP.  Final numbers: 8-1 with a 1.65 ERA.  His first season in the USA after 3 DSL seasons was a huge success and his age (22) should help him move upwards.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen/spot-starter.
  • Jefry Rodriguez was the opening day starter and made 12 starts all told for the GCL, going 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA anda a 43/20 K/BB ratio in 48 innings.  The 19-yr old DSL graduate looked great all year, even if he averaged only about 4 innings an outing.   He improved his K/BB rate marketdly from his 2012 DSL season and should keep on moving upwards.  Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A rotation (I don’t think he can crack the low-A rotation).
  • Hector Silvestre was the staff ace, going 7-0 with a 1.82 ERA in 13 games (8 starts) over a team leading 49 1/3 innings.  He was absolutely dominant all August, throwing 26 scoreless innings to finish out the year (including the playoffs).  The 20-year old lefty has a ton of potential.   Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A rotation.
  • Austin Voth had two quick outings in the GCL before moving on up to Auburn.  See the short-A writeup for more. Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Philips Valdez had a few starts but worked mostly out of the pen en route to a dominant 1.95 ERA and 0.87 whip in 32 IP.  He’s another older DSL signee who, like Suero, could make an impact a couple levels above GCL next year.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen competition, perhaps falling back to Short-A.
  • Nick Pivetta started 3 games in Viera but averaged less than 4 innings a start before getting bounced up to Auburn.   See the short-A writeup for more.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • Deion Williams failed in Auburn and got just 13 innings in the GCL this year.  He’s young (just turned 21) so he has a bit of time to sort things out.  Outlook for next season: XST and another shot at Short-A in the bullpen.
  • Lucas Giolito went 2-1, 1.94 ERA with 39/14 k/bb in 36 2/3 innings, 28 hits mostly in the GCL.  All Nats prospect fans should know of Giolito’s status these days; he has come back from surgery, pitched effectively in the rookie league and was lights out in 3 starts in short-A (one run conceded in 14 innings).  Per comments and scouting reports his velocity is back, he seems healthy, and he could be just a season away from being breathlessly talked about as one of the best prospects in the game.  Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Travis Ott went 3-0, 4.03 ERA with 32/12 K/BB in 29 innings in the GCL, 24 hits.  The rare mid-20s round high schooler who signs, Ott was used as a starter in the GCL and was mostly good all year.  His seasonal numbers were skewed by one bad outing where he gave up 6 earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in mid-July.  This tall, lanky left-hander (6’4″ 170lbs) seemingly has room to grow and is very young; he turned 18 at the end of June.  Looks like the Nats might have a find here.   Outlook for next season: XST  and repeating GCL; he’s only 18 and could use the seasoning.
  • A slew of relievers got one start here and there; its kind of hard to assign GCL guys to “the rotation” when they get a start and only pitch 3 innings.  Instead, they’re discussed in the reliever section.
  • Rehabbing Starters from other levels: Brad Meyers got two re-hab starts for GCL this year, Chris Young, Ryan Mattheus, Cole Kimball, and Sammy Solis got one each.

GCL Relievers: this section is done mostly by IP, though we’ll start with the clear “closer” for the GCL Nats.

  • Jake Walsh got 8 saves in 16 games, posting a 1.40 ERA with 17/5 K/BB in 19 1/3 innings closing in the Rookie League.  He was promoted to Hagerstown on 9/3/13 to provide lefty bullpen coverage in the playoffs.    He was probably too old and too experienced for the rookie league but showed enough promise to get a two-level call-up for the post-season.  Outlook for next season: low-A bullpen loogy competition.
  • Kelvin Rodriguez was a middle reliever for the GCL nats, throwing 29 innings across 13 outings and posting a 3.07 ERA.  He wasn’t quite as dominant as some of his DSL graduates, and I suspect it will keep him (despite his age) in XST to start 2014.   Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A bullpen.
  • Matt Derosier was 2-1, 2.43 ERA with 20/5 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 24 hits.   Derosier may have been a Juco guy but he’s young; he turned 19 in July of this year.  After a brief stint to start the season in Auburn he pitched in middle relief for the GCL Nats, getting at least 4 long enough stints to earn a “grade” in my monthly starter grades.   He posted good, solid numbers, nothing flashy, nothing bad.  A 4/1 K/BB ratio is great.  He’ll move up next year, looking to stick as a younger member of the bullpen in short-A.  Outlook for next season: short-A bullpen.
  • David Ramos posted an ugly 6.35 ERA in 22 middle relief innings for the GCL Nats.  His first state-side season could be his last, given his age (22).  Outlook for next season: XST and repeating the GCL bullpen, release candidate.
  • Joey Webb went 2-0, 1.89 ERA with 25/6 K/BB in 19 innings in the GCL, 13 hits.   Webb comes from a very small baseball school (NAIA’s Menlo College in California) and may not have been ready to compete with a bunch of Division I guys in Short-A, despite already being 23.   Outlook for next season: short-A bullpen.
  • Elliott Waterman bounced down and then back out of the GCL this year.  See the short-A write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen loogy competition, release candidate.
  • Niko Spezial went 1-0, 3.32 ERA with 21/8 K/BB in 19 relief innings mostly in the GCL, 16 hits.  Spezial started the season with Auburn but got the quick demotion after just 3 1/3 relatively non-descript innings.  A college senior draftee, he did not belong in the rookie league.  Nonetheless he pitched effectively for the record-setting GCL Nats.  Spezial needs to show how he fares against someone his own age, which hopefully he’ll get a chance to do in 2014.   Outlook for next season: short-A bullpen, release candidate.
  • Michael Boyden posted a 4.61 ERA with 15/14 K/BB in 13 2/3 innings, 17 hits for GCL.  14 walks and 17 hits equates with a balloned 2.27 whip for this 23-year old in the rookie league (which means he’s likely throwing against guys 4-5 years younger than he is).  It is hard to understand why he was back in the GCL after having shown he could handle Short-A in 2012.  Either way, his control issues from last year caught up with him in 2013 and I don’t think he’ll be long for the organization.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen loogy competition, release candidate.
  • Ryan Ullmann started in the rookie league, being a senior coming from an NAIA school, but by season’s end he was in the Auburn rotation.  See the short-A write-up for more.    Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • Cory Bafidis briefly worked in the GCL bullpen.  See the short-A write-up for more  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • Justin Thomas threw 3  innings in Viera during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2013.  See low-A post for more.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition.
  • Other Relievers who got 10 IP or less:
    • Rehabbing relievers from other levels: Pat Lehman, Rafael Martin, Cameron Selik, Brian Broderick, each of whom got a handful of innings.
    • Mike Sylvestri was dominant in his 9 innings of GCL work after getting demoted from Auburn.  See Short-A write-up for more.
    • Luis Reyes was called up from the DSL to make an appearance in late August; he gave up 3 runs on 4 hits in 4 innings and was sent back to the D.R.
    • Andrew Cooper threw 2 innings in Viera then bounced up to Auburn.  See Short-A write-up for more.
    • John Simms threw 2 innings in Viera then bounced up to Auburn.  See Short-A write-up for more.
    • Lastly, infielder Kyle Attl threw 1/3 of an inning somewhere along the line, giving up a homer before getting an out for an ERA of 27 and a FIP of 42.20 on the season.

Summary

The GCL Nat’s record breaking season was borne on the backs of a slew of arms rising to the GCL from the DSL, and despite some of them being slightly “old” for the level they helped the team achieve greatness in 2013.  This also marks a great collection of DSL graduates that should start matriculating upwards, moreso than we’ve had to follow in quite a while.

(Editor’s Note: I corrected Jefry Rodriguez’ name after the fact; thanks to commenter Melissa).

Auburn/Short-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Jake Johansen was the star of Auburn's pitching staff this year.  Photo via DBU website

Jake Johansen was the star of Auburn’s pitching staff this year. Photo via DBU website

This is the 6th in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Auburn/Short-A’s pitching staff for 2013.  I’m posting Auburn and GCL today to finish off the series this week.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Brett Mooneyham was the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Auburn/Short-A.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Auburn’s 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Auburn 2013 page.  Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

A caveat before starting this post (and we’ll say this same thing in the GCL post): this is short-season ball, so nobody’s got more than a few dozen innings.  The staff leader had 56 innings.  So yes this is absolutely going to be some “Small Sample Size” analysis.  Which in some cases is unfair to the player (to the good or to the bad).  It is what it is.

Auburn starters.  The rotation started the season with Turnbull, Johansen, Selsor, Orlan and DWilliams.   Those 5 opening day rotation members were acquired by the team as follows: 2011 Draft, 2013 draft, 2012 draft, 2012 draft and 2011 draft.  I mention this because a common thought process is that Short-A spots are “saved” for college draftess in the current year, but this year only one current-year draftee started in the Short-A rotation (and it was our #1 pick).  The Auburn rotation ended with Barrientos, Giolito, Selsor (sort of), Orlan, Simms and Ullmann.  As with the rest of the system, Auburn graduated a ton of hurlers throughout the season.  Lets take a look at the starters:

  • Kylin Turnbull faced two demotions to end up as Auburn’s opening day starter, not a great start to his 2nd pro season.  He posted a 1.96 ERA in his first four Short-A starts and returned to Hagerstown.  See Low-A write-up for more.   Outlook for next season: High-A’s rotation competition but likely slipping to bullpen.
  • Jake Johansen was the Nats first 2013 pick, a big tall righty from a small Texas school with a 99 mph fastball.  He did not disappoint in pro ball, posting a 1.92 ERA with 51/23 K/BB in 51 2/3 innings between Auburn and Hagerstown.  After signing quickly for slot (very quickly, like in 24 hours or so), Johansen joined short-A Auburn and was essentially unhittable through 10 starts.  He was promoted up to low-A, got hit around in two starts and finishes the season with a 1.92 ERA, and a sub 1.00 WHIP.  Johansen is walking too many batters, but still flashes a dominant fastball.  Scouts continue to believe he’ll end up in the bullpen (a lazy narrative assigned by default to any player over 6’5″ with a significant fastball .. with the constant “big guys cannot repeat their mechanics” excuse.  Nobody talks about how LeBron James can’t “repeat his mechanics” as he dominates the NBA and he’s 6’8″ playing the point … just a slight tangent on my irritation with broad-stroke scouting narratives), but until that situation presents itself Johansen will stay as a starter.  Outlook for next season: Low-A’s rotation, looking for a push to Potomac mid-season.
  • Casey Selsor was 0-6, 4.29 ERA with 30/14 in 42 1/3 innings, 56  hits for Auburn.  He started the season in Auburn’s rotation, got demoted to the bullpen after 6 starts, but eventually made his way back into the rotation in some sense by the time the season was over.  He gave up a ton of baserunners, but his BABIP was high.  Despite a 4.29 ERA his FIP for the year was just 3.15.  So he pitched better than his stats look.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen as a swingman.
  • Robert Orlan was 1-5, 3.65 ERA with 47/22 K/BB in 56 2/3 innings, 54 hits for Auburn.  Orlan was the leading innings-eater for Auburn in 2013 after missing the whole 2012 season following TJ surgery.   Orlan kept the ball down, pitched better than his ERA shows (3.38 fip) and shows no reason not to continue up the chain and compete for rotation jobs in full season ball next year.   Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Deion Williams has now fully transitioned to the mound after being a hitter in 2011.   But the jury is out as to whether he can stick; in 8 Auburn starts he got shelled, going 0-6 with a 9+ ERA and was dumped back to the rookie league.  He’s young (just turned 21) so he has a bit of time to sort things out.  Outlook for next season: XST and another shot at Short-A in the bullpen.
  • Joel Barrientos tried to make the jump from rookie ball to short-season and got hammered: in 11 appearances (8 starts) he was 1-5 with a 7.08 ERA, getting demoted to the bullpen later in the season.  The DSL grad just turned 19, so patience is expected with his progression.  He did well enough in the GCL in 2012; he needs to make the leap to the next level. Outlook for next season: XST and another shot at Short-A rotation.
  • Austin Voth was clearly started too low for his draft pedigree (Pac-12 College Junior) and it showed, as he went 3-0, 1.75 ERA with 55/6 K/BB in46 1/3 innings between three levels.  He pushed his way through two promotions on the season, ending up in the Hagerstown rotation.  Two key stats on Voth to keep in mind: he had more than a 9/1 K/BB ratio on the season and he gave up zero home-runs in his 55 innings on the year.  And these stats were done with pretty normal looking BABIPs; his FIP values were lower than his ERAs in short- and low-A.  I like this guy and I think he could be a find.  He finished 2nd in the Pac-12 to Mark Appel in strikeouts last year after all.  Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation and also looking for a mid-season bump to Potomac.
  • Ryan Ullmann began the season in the rookie league, being a senior coming from a Division III school, but by season’s end he was in the Auburn rotation.  He got 6 starts in Auburn with some up and down results (3 decent, one ok, two bad) that resulted in a 5.30 ERA all told.   You can’t teach size (he’s 6’6″, 230).  Ullmann closed in college and may return to the pen, despite his K/9 not being strong.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen, maybe Short-A again.
  • Nick Pivetta sported a 1-1, 3.41 ERA with 18/12 K/BB in 29 innings between GCL and Short-A.  Pivetta started 5 games for Auburn but averaged less than 4 innings a start.   For such a big guy (6’5″ 220) with such a reported fastball (upper 90s in short spurts) I would have hoped for more K’s (18 in 29 innings).   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen, possibly as a closer so he can maintain higher velocity in shorter outings.
  • Lucas Giolito, as any Nats fan knows, returned from TJ surgery and pitched in both the GCL and for Auburn.  In three Short-A starts he gave up just 9 hits and one run.  See GCL’s post for more.  Outlook for next season: Low-A rotation.
  • Other’s who got 1-2 starts here or there:
    • Blake Treinen got two rehab starts.  See the AA-post for more.
    • John Simms got two spot starts at the end of the season; see the reliever section.
    • Chris Young got a rehab start; see the AAA post for more.
    • Reynaldo Lopez gave up 7 runs in an inning and a third, got demoted to the GCL and he didn’t throw another inning all year.  Odd.   Outlook for next season: GCL bullpen.

Auburn Relievers: We’ll go by the assumed closers then by IP.

  • Leonard Hollins had 6 saves and a 2.91 ERA with 36/16 in 46 1/3 innings, 48 hits mostly for Auburn.   The submariner made a successful jump to short-A out of the GCL, and still has not given up a professional home-run.  All we have to do now is figure out if he’s “Leonard” or if he’s “L.J.” since milb.com and Fangraphs differ in their names for him.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • David Napoli went 1-0, 1.14 ERA with 28/10 K/BB in23 relief innings in Auburn, 16 hits.  He had a very wild reputation coming out of college, but seems to have toned it down at Auburn to become an excellent relief pitcher.   I’m a little disappointed to see him already get converted to relief, but his size and stuff seems to point towards situational lefty anyway.  I’m also very excited in particular to see Napoli succeed; he was a clear “draft punt” pick, a college senior taken between the 6th and 10th rounds and given a miniscule signing bonus so as to play by the new CBA drafting bonus cap rules.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen, perhaps even higher if Potomac needs lefties.
  • Jake Joyce went 1-3, 5.22 ERA with 25/12 K/BB in 29 relief innings in Auburn, 37 hits.  Joyce was unlucky (.381 babip) and his FIP reflects that (3.03 versus 5.22 era), but he still gave up a ton of base-runners (1.67 whip) and a ton of air-outs (0.62 GO/AO on the year).   Like Napoli,  Joyce was a senior sign for very little money, but he didn’t perform nearly as well.  He could seem rather expendible if he doesn’t start strong in 2014.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen competition, release candidate.
  • John Simms worked mostly as a long-man for Auburn, getting two starts at the end of the year.  All told, he went 0-4, 5.70 ERA with 34/7 K/BB.  His walks were low but hits were high.  His ERA looks ugly but look beyond the top layer and you discover that Simms actually didn’t pitch that badly this year.  A ridiculously high BABIP of .438 contributed to his inflated short-A ERA; his FIP was just 2.38.  Combine that with his 5/1 K/BB ratio and he has the makings of at least a good reliever in the system.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen.
  • Andrew Cooper was 2-1, 3.86 ERA with 16/7 K/BB in 25 2/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 29 hits.  His Auburn-only numbers were worse.  Drafted as a project, and so far he’s pitched like a project.  His numbers aren’t bad or great in any direction.  I’d suspect the team knew he needed some complex time so I could see him staying in Viera until next season’s short-A starts up and repeating the level.  Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A bullpen again.
  • Cory Bafidis went 2-0, 2.73 ERA with 22/13 K/BB in 26 1/3 relief innings mostly in Auburn, 18 hits.  He got pushed to low-A too early, settled into short-A where he probably belonged to begin with, and pitched relatively well for 20 innings.   Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen loogy competition, perhaps falling back to Short-A again.
  • Will Hudgins started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen, was demoted to Auburn, and abruptly retired in July.   Outlook for next season: out of baseball.
  • Other Relievers who got 10 or fewer innings:
    • Justin Thomas threw 3 1/3 innings in Auburn during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2013.  See low-A post for more.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition.
    • Mike Sylvestri started the season in Auburn, got shelled (12 runs in 8 2/3 innings) but then dominated the GCL.   He’s undersized (5’10″, 180) and could have trouble getting out of rookie ball (as evidenced by his short-A experience).  Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A bullpen again, release candidate.
    • Ben Grisz threw 8 scoreless innings in his return to the organization after missing the 2nd half of 2011 with some unknown “off-field issue” and then the entire 2012 season with some sort of injury (discussed here in this 4-minute interview with awful audio).   He’s an NDFA turning 23 with just 28 pro innings in 3 years; clearly he needs to do something in 2014.  Outlook for next season: XST and then Short-A bullpen, release candidate.
    • Elliott Waterman got hammered in his early outings for Auburn this year before getting demoted to rookie ball.  He pitched better in the GCL, eventually earning a call-back to Auburn but has not appeared since 8/31/13.  He’s still relatively young (does not turn 23 until November) and he’s a big tall lefty, but he’s putting too many guys on base and not getting enough swing and miss stuff to stick as a situational arm.  He may get one more spring training but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him cut loose if he doesn’t make a full-season team in 2014.  Outlook for next season: Low-A bullpen loogy competition, release candidate.
    • Todd Simko threw a grand total of 6 innings for Auburn and was released.
    • Kevin Dicharry threw 4 1/3 innings and then was released 7/1/13.   Without any knowledge of how well he recovered from the arm issues he had in college, this seems like an incredibly quick release considering how well he pitched (even if he was overaged) last year in the GCL.
    • Niko Spezial started the season with Auburn but got the quick demotion after just 3 1/3 relatively non-descript innings.  See the GCL write-up for more.
    • Matt Derosier briefly started the season in Auburn he pitched in middle relief for the GCL Nats.  See the GCL write-up for more.
    • Christian Garcia threw one inning of re-hab work.  See the AAA write-up for more.l
    • Catchers Erick Fernandez and Andruth Ramirez each threw a bit of bullpen-saving mop-up work, as did OF Greg Zebrack.

Summary

In the end, Auburn featured three starters who will form the bulk of what could be a pretty special Hagerstown rotation next year.  Not surprisingly, the rest of the rotation and the bulk of the bullpen was comprised of mid-to-late round draft picks, college seniors and other long-shots, and as a result the team struggled on the year.  But from a player development perspective, we may have a few decent players coming out of Auburn this year.

Editor note; corrected Ullmann’s entry after publication per comments; had said NAIA school, corrected to identify Concordia as a Division III school

Hagerstown/Low-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Pedro Encarnacion was the staff leader for Hagerstown in 2013.  Photo via flickr.

Pedro Encarnacion was the staff leader for Hagerstown in 2013. Photo via flickr.

This is the 5th in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Hagerstown/Low-A’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Aaron Barrett was the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Taylor Jordan the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Hagerstown/Low-A.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Hagerstown 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Hagerstown 2013 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

Hagerstown starters.  The rotation started the season with Anderson, Mooneyham, Pineyro, Pena and Encarnacion.  It ended with Turnbull, Encarnacion, Bacus, Voth, and Johansen (with Dickson in the rotation most of the last half of the season as well).  There were quite a few changes along the way; I counted 8 pitcher promotions throughout the year, including 6 starters.  Lets take a look at the High-A starters for 2013, starting with the original five and then counting down by the number of starts.

  • Dixon Anderson got the ball opening day and threw 15 decent starts for the Suns, even making the all-star team.  He started to struggle in June, hit the D/L at the end of that month and never re-appeared.  As you might imagine, its hard to find out injury news for guys in the low minors, so the extent of his injury is unknown to me at this time.  Which makes it kind of hard to predict where he’ll be next year.  He had good component ratios and was a college draftee from a good baseball school, so you’d think he’s ready to move up.  Outlook for next season: High-A rotation if he’s healthy.
  • Brett Mooneyham absolutely dominated low-A ball, posting a 1.94 ERA and going 10-3 in 93 innings before mercifully being pushed to Potomac.  And this comes as no surprise; a 3rd round pick from a Pac-12 baseball power should dominate a bunch of kids 2 years his junior.  I’m not sure what was left to prove in Hagerstown, especially when it became clear he was overpowering the league.  To be fair, he did have a 6 week D/L stint that factored in; but once he came back and dominated towards the end of June he should have been pushed up.  Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Ivan Pineyro threw 13 good starts for Hagerstown, was promoted, then got 3 starts in High-A before he was flipped for Scott Hairston.   Outlook for next season: in the Chicago Cubs organization.
  • Ronald Pena started in the rotation for Hagerstown, then was pushed to the bullpen to become the long-man by June.  He ended the season with decent enough numbers: 4-3 with a 3.48 ERA in 28 appearances (10 starts).  His component ratios weren’t that great: 55/34 K/BB in 88 innings, but he did give the Suns a great playoff stint in long relief.  Where does a guy like this go from here?  Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen in a similar long-relief/spot starter role.
  • Pedro Encarnacion was the staff leader for Hagerstown this year, leading the team in starts, wins (technically tied with Mooneyham), innings pitched and K’s.   The DSL graduate posted a 10-9 W/L record with 113/37 K/BB in 128 innings.   He had a 1.19 whip on the year, and his FIP (3.50) flattered his ERA (3.58).   Encarnacion right now represents the most accomplished DSL graduate in the entire system (when speaking of pitchers anyway), perhaps the best DSL pitching prospect we’ve had the entire time the team has been in Washington (who is more accomplished?  Atahualpa Severino?), and I see no reason for him not to keep climbing the ranks next year.    Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Nick Lee joined up with Hagerstown in mid May and gave the team 17 decent starts before hitting the D/L to make way for new acquisition Dakota Bacus in August (more on him later).   He had impressive K rates (102 strikeouts in 91 innings) and a FIP (3.54) that flattered his ERA (3.95).   He had a number of sparkling outings interspersed with a couple of failures, but for the most part was consistent this year.  Outlook for next season: High-A rotation competition, possibly dropping back to Low-A if the numbers game doesn’t work out (he’s young; he’s still 22).
  • Kylin Turnbull lasted just three high-A starts, giving up 10 runs in 17 innings and was demoted to low-A.  Repeating Hagerstown, he was again poor, putting in just 5 mediocre-to-bad starts before being sent to XST, where he toiled for a few weeks before joining up with Auburn to start the short-season.  He pitched to a 1.96 ERA in four short-A starts and earned a promotion back to Hagerstown, where he finally settled down and finished out the year.  Unfortunately he laid an egg in the playoffs, but a lot of our guys did.  On the whole in Hagerstown for the year, he performed ably; a 3.58 ERA in 16 starts.    Outlook for next season: Attempting High-A’s rotation again, but i’m wondering if he’s cut out to start.  Despite his draft pedigree (4th rounder in 2011) he may be eventually bound for the bullpen as a lefty specialist.
  • Ian Dickson was acquired in early June from the Cubs when the Nats finally DFA’d Henry Rodriguez.  I define this transaction as “getting something for nothing.”  Dickson joined the Suns bullpen, showed his big arm, then was mostly a starter for the rest of the season.  All in all for the Suns he had 16 appearances (10 starts) and posted a 4.39 ERA with more than a K/inning.  Meanwhile his K/BB ratio was fantastic for such a strikeout guy (71/17 in 65 2/3 innings for the Suns this year).  Is he a starter?  Outlook for next season: High-A swingman/spot-starter.
  • Matt Purke over-matched low-A in 6 starts (posting 41 K’s in 29 innings) and was pushed to Potomac in early July.  See the high-A writeup for more. Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Others who got just 1-2 starts for Hagerstown:
    • Austin Voth is an exciting 2013 draftee who blew through both short season teams to end up in the low-A rotation and get the opening playoff start.  See the short-A writeup for more.
    • Jake Johansen is, as we all know, the Nats top draft pick from 2013.  He (like Voth) pushed his way to low-A this season.   See the short-A writeup for more.
    • Dakota Bacus came to the team in late August in trade for Kurt Suzuki; he spent most of the year in Oakland’s low-A team and performed ably.  He posted a 3.65 ERA in 121 innings but showed a bit of a wild streak.   Outlook for next season: High-A rotation competition.
    • Blake Schwartz blitzed through 4 starts in low-A and was quickly promoted to Potomac.  See the high-A write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
    • Brian Dupra earned two promotions on the season to end up in Potomac’s bullpen.  See the high-A write-up for more. Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition, possible release.
    • Reynaldo Lopez gave Hagerstown a spot start, getting called up from Auburn.  See Short-A write-up for more.
    • Ryan Mattheus got a rehab “start.”  See MLB write-up for more.

Hagerstown relievers.  We’ll start with the closers and work backwards by IP from there.  I will say this; when considering the future of middle relievers in low-A ball, everything is a crap shoot.  Most of these guys are already “org guys” before they’ve even really started their careers and its really difficult to project where they may go.   Unfortunately, lots of these guys may end up being post spring-training releases to make way for the newer crop of draftees.

  • Robert Benincasa led the Suns in saves despite being promoted mid-season.  See the high-A write-up for more.   Outlook for next season: AA/High-A bullpen.
  • Gilberto Mendez dominated low-A this season, arriving in June, posting a 0.91 ERA and striking out 33 in 29 2/3 innings while earning 7 saves.   No reason to think the 2011 DR signing isn’t moving on up.  I like this guy; so far he’s pitched pretty well at every level he’s hit.   Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen, possibly the closer if Benincasa is in AA.
  • Derek Self couldn’t make the leap to High-A, and spent most of the season in Hagerstown.  He posted decent numbers in low-A:  a 3.41 ERA in 31 2/3 innings pitching mostly towards the back of the bullpen.   Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again, possibly falling back to the low-A bullpen.
  • Travis Henke toiled most of the season in Hagerstown and got a late-season promotion.  In Low-A he posted a 2.72 ERA in nearly 60 innings of mostly longer relief.  He’s yet another decent find out of a small college (Arkansas – Little Rock) for the Nats scouting department. Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Bryan Harper earned his keep in low-A this year, posting a 3.97 ERA in 45 innings.  He’s got to work on his control though; 32 walks in those 45 innings completely counter balance his nice K/9 ratio.  Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen competition as the matchup-lefty.
  • Cody Davis continued to pitch extremely well for an undrafted free agent signing, succeeding in his third straight season and third straight promotion.  For Hagerstown in 2013; a 2.76 ERA in 42 innings, more than a K/inning, nearly a 4/1 K/BB ratio and an even better FIP (2.33) than his ERA.  He’s clearly earned a shot at the next level.   Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Brian Rauh started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen as an 8th inning guy, didn’t really pitch that well but was pushed up to Potomac anyway.  See the high-A write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen, perhaps a starter.  Perhaps a release candidate.
  • Christian Meza lasted about 5 weeks in Potomac, putting up a 6.62 ERA and greater than a 2.00 whip before getting demoted back to Hagerstown.  For Hagerstown he was better but still not great; a 4.00 ERA over 31 innings.  To be fair, his K rate was excellent and his FIP in such a short sample size was decent, but giving up 2 base runners an inning as a reliever is a no-no.  He’s entering his 5th pro season and has thus far been unable to succeed above low-A ball; he may face a do-or-die spring training in 2014.   He is a lefty though, and the lower parts of the system seem to lack lefty matchup guys, so this could be a saving grace.  Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again, possible release candidate.
  • David Fischer started the year in Hagerstown but was quickly bumped up to Potomac, where he served as a long-man out of the pen.  See the high-A write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Will Hudgins started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen, was demoted to Auburn, and abruptly retired in July.   Odd in my opinion; his stats didn’t look that bad.  Outlook for next season: out of baseball.
  • Other relievers who didn’t get enough innings to really pass much judgement:
    • Justin Thomas bounced around the system in his first pro year, pitching at 4 different levels.  He only threw a grand total of 22 innings on the year so its hard to pass too much judgement.  He was a college senior draftee so you’d have to think he’s better suited for full-season ball in 2014.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition.
    • Chris McKenzie threw 12 innings of 5.25 ERA ball and was released, ending a 4 year tenure in the organization.  
    • Jason Smith got lit up in 7+ innings and was released.
    • Corey Bafidis stopped in to Hagerstown for two appearances before heading to Auburn.  See the short-A write-up.
    • Leonard Hollins had one appearance in low-A, got sent back to XST and spent the season in Auburn.    See the short-A write-up.
    • Jake Walsh had 1 IP during a brief callup in August, then joined the Suns for the playoffs.  See the GCL write-up for more.

Summary

The Suns were the first half champs on the backs of good (if over-aged) starting pitching.  It is what it is; the Nationals are drafting older players, focusing on college guys, and its just natural that our low-A team is going to trend older.   Based on what I see here, there’s going to be quite a competition for the High-A spots in 2014.  There’s going to be more guys than spots, both in the rotation and in the bullpen.

A lot of the names who featured for the Suns in the playoffs may very well be back to start 2014, giving the team an excellent chance of repeating as first half champs in 2014.

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Taylor Jordan's phenomenal rise from A-ball to the majors is this year's high-A story of the year.  Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

Taylor Jordan’s phenomenal rise from A-ball to the majors is this year’s high-A story of the year. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

This is the 4th in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series:

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011′s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 2013 page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees.

Note: from here on down, there’s more than a few examples of small sample sizes.  Plus, I know many readers here were frequent Potomac game attendees and may have different/better opinions than I.  Please comment if you disagree with the sentiments here.

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Ray, Jordan, Cole, Turnbull and Hill.  It ended with Purke, Demny, Mooneyham, Solis and Schwartz.   There were quite a few changes along the way; I counted 9 promotions throughout the year.  Lets take a look at the High-A starters for 2013, starting with the original five and then counting down by the number of starts.  Because there were so many promotions, we’ll be referring to the AA and MLB posts frequently here for more detail.

  • Robbie Ray got the ball opening day and never looked back: he dominated high-A in the first half of the season (10.71 K/9 in 16 High-A starts) and continued the great work as one of the youngest starters in all of AA by the time the season was over.  See the AA-writeup for more. Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Taylor Jordan gave up just 5 earned runs in his first 6 Potomac starts of the year, quickly earning him a promotion to AA.  We all know the story from here; he blew up AA and then gave the MLB team 9 good starts before hitting his post TJ surgery innings limit.  See AA’s and the MLB post for more detail.   Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • A. J. Cole made his triumphant return to the Nats organization, escaping his hellish 2012 season in the California League by coming back to Washington as bounty for Michael Morse.  Cole threw about 100 innings in High-A across 18 starts and was 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA.  His FIP was considerably better and he averaged more than a K/inning, and the team pushed him to AA as a 21 year old.  See AA’s post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation to start, looking for a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Kylin Turnbull lasted just three high-A starts, giving up 10 runs in 17 innings and was demoted to low-A.  See low-A’s post for more.   Outlook for next season: Attempting High-A’s rotation again.
  • Taylor Hill threw 84 innings of sub 3.00 ball across 14 starts in Potomac, earning a promotion to AA mid-season.  See AA’s write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Blake Schwartz blitzed through 4 starts in low-A and was quickly promoted to Potomac, where he led the staff in starts, wins and innings.  He finished the year with an 11-4 record with a 2.65 ERA in 132 innings.  His ERA was a bit masked by a low BABIP, resulting in a FIP that was a point higher.  He had a nice 4/1 K/BB ratio, a relatively small WHIP, and a decent enough K/9 rate.  Another excellent small college find by the Nats scouting staff.  Outlook for next season: You have to think he’s in the AA rotation; what more does he have to prove in high-A?
  • Sammy Solis made it back from Tommy John and gave Potomac 57 innings over 13 apperances with a decent 3.43 ERA.   He did miss some time mid-season but came back pretty strong.  He was also the P-Nats’ #1 starter in the playoffs, giving them one great and one not-so-great start in the post season.   Solis was added to the 40-man ahead of the Rule-5 draft by virtue of his being eligible; now there’s talk about him possibly featuring as a lefty-matchup guy at the major league level.   I can see that eventually, but not from the start of the 2014 season.  I can see Solis going to AA to get some reps against better hitters and possibly covering for injuries/need later this year.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation for now.
  • Brian Rauh started the year in Hagerstown’s bullpen as an 8th inning guy, didn’t really pitch that well but was pushed up to Potomac anyway, where he suddenly slotted in as a starter and ended up giving the team 12 starts over 16 appearances with a 4.22 ERA (4.81 FIP) over 64 innings.  He made way in the rotation late in the season for Brett Mooneyham and worked out of the pen again for the playoffs.   Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen, perhaps a starter.  Perhaps a release candidate.
  • Matt Purke finally looked healthy after years of shoulder issues.  He over matched low-A and was pushed to Potomac in early July.  In 12 starts he was 5-3 with a 4.43 ERA, 1.39 whip, and 3.58 FIP.  He got the ball in the ghird playoff game and pitched decently enough.  What concerns me is his lack of dominance of A-ball hitters; he sported just a 6.05 K/9 rate as a starter in High-A this year.  This from a former first round pick, a dominant lefty who was undefeated as a freshman in college in a good baseball conference.   What are we to make of him at this point?  On the bright side, he’s only 22 and still has a couple of option years left, so the Nats have some time to see what they have (unlike, say with Solis, who is 25 and needs to show something like right now).  Outlook for next season: High-A starter once again, looking for a quick promotion to AA.
  • Paul Demny couldn’t make the jump to AA as a starter, and was demoted back to Potomac mid-season.  He ended the season in Potomac’s rotation but (likely out of respect for what the Potomac guys accomplished this year) did not participate in the High-A playoffs.  In 8 Potomac starts, he was 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA with about a K/inning, which he should have done considering that he’s in his 6th pro season.   See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Brett Mooneyham pitched most of the year in Hagerstown before a late-season bump up to Potomac, where he promptly got shelled.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: High-A rotation.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Ivan Pineyro got 3 starts in High-A before he was flipped for Scott Hairston.  See the low-A post for more. (Editor’s note: corrected for the right Hairston thanks to John C comment).
    • Brian Dupra got a few spot-starts; see the reliever section.
    • Marcos Frias posted a 7.59 ERA in two starts and a few relief appearances and was released 7/24/13.   See the AA post for more.
    • Rob Gilliam made two forgettable starts in High-A before getting pushed up to AA.  See the AA post for more.
    • Hector Sylvestre got called up from the rookie league to make one spot start.  See GCL post for more.
    • Ross Detwiler and Ross Ohlendorf both made one rehab start for Potomac.  See MLB post for more.

Potomac Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by looking at closers first, then by innings pitched.

  • Robert Benincasa earned 17 saves in 25 apperances for Potomac to lead the team in saves.  He earned his promotion after starting the season as Hagerstown’s closer.  His numbers on the year: 34/9 K/BB in 30 innings, 3.30 ERA, 1.23 whip, 2.80 fip.  His performance earned him a placement in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 4.00 ERA in 9 innings of work.  Outlook for next season: Depending on the numbers, I could see him in the AA bullpen or beginning in High-A with a look for a quick promotion.
  • Richie Mirowski dominated to the tune of a 1.50 ERA across 48 high-A innings and earned his promotion.  See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen again, looking to force another promotion.
  • Rob Wort started the season in AA, struggled, missed 5 weeks with an injury, but then settled in as a back-of-the-bullpen guy for Potomac.  In 34 innings he posted a 3.71 ERA but more impressively had a 48/29 K/BB ratio.  Well, ok, the 29 walks in 34 innings wasn’t that impressive, but the 48 Ks was.  Unfortunately for Wort, this is the FOURTH season in a row he’s been in Potomac.   He had absolutely fantastic numbers in 2012 but couldn’t back them up.  It may be safe to say he’s hit his limit organizationally.   Outlook for next season: Another shot at AA bullpen but may end up back in High-A.
  • Greg  Holt put up solid numbers as a middle reliever for Potomac, leading the bullpen in innings while going 9-0 with a 3.71 ERA in 70+ innings.  I’m concerned with his 55/33 K/BB ratio in those 70 innings; that just seems like too many walks and not enough K’s.  He’s progressed each of his three pro seasons; will he keep moving on up to AA for 2014?  Outlook for next season: Possibly in AA’s bullpen, more likely back as high-A middle reliever.
  • Colin Bates had a really nice season for Potomac this year, posting nearly a 6-1 K/BB ratio while still striking out nearly 7 guys per 9 innings pitched.  He posted a 2.61 ERA over 62 innings pitched, his second straight season advancing a level and posting a sub 3.00 ERA in the bullpen.    Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Brian Dupra earned two promotions on the season to end up in Potomac’s bullpen, where he put up pedestrian numbers (1-7, 4.96 ERA, 1.49 whip).  A college senior draftee with very little bonus money investment, Dupra’s usefulness to the organization may be at a limit.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen competition, possible release.
  • David Fischer started the year in Hagerstown but was quickly bumped up to Potomac, where he served as a long-man out of the pen.  He hit the D/L in mid August and never returned.  On the year his numbers were pedestrian; 4.30 ERA in 44 innings.  He did maintain a great K/9 rate (10.84).  But Fischer’s problem is the same as his fellow low-bonus/college senior draftees currently toiling in A-ball; its move up or ship out.  Outlook for next season: High-A bullpen.
  • Matt Grace threw 28 innings of quality relief and was bumped up to AA.  See the AA write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to continue as the lefty matchup guy.
  • Rafael Martin didn’t make his first appearance until July, and when he got to Potomac he was great; a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings.  As well he should; two years ago he was a closer in AA and posted a 1.77 era.  What is he doing in A-Ball?  The Mexican league free agent signing in 2009 seems like he should be back in AA, where he’s shown he can compete in the past.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Derek Self couldn’t make the leap to High-A, getting demoted to Hagerstown after putting up a 6 ERA in 29 innings.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again.
  • Tyler Herron quickly showed he was too good for High-A and was promoted to Harrisburg after 20 innings.  See the AA post for more.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen.
  • Christian Meza lasted about 5 weeks in Potomac, putting up a 6.62 ERA and greater than a 2.00 whip before getting demoted back to Hagerstown.  See the low-A post for more.  Outlook for next season: trying the high-A bullpen again, possible release candidate.
  • Travis Henke toiled most of the season in Hagerstown and got a late-season promotion.  See the low-A post for more.   Outlook for next season: high-A bullpen.
  • Cameron Selik struggled through 10 appearances and 11 innings throughout the course of the season, missing a ton of time as he struggled with injury.  He can’t go back to Potomac for the fourth straight season, can he?   Outlook for next season: AA bullpen if healthy, otherwise perhaps an unfortunate release candidate.
  • Other guys who had short stints with Potomac this year:
    • Ben Hawkins threw 8 innings and was released.
    • Justin Thomas threw just one inning in Potomac during his tour of the low-minors this year; see the Low-A post for more.

Summary

No less than 18 guys got starts this year for Potomac, in a 142 game season.   All five of their opening day starters were moved out (four up, one down) by mid-season, and yet the team still made the playoffs.  That’s a great testament to the pitcher development going on in our low minors, and I think it is going to show on the big club very soon.  Its not hard to see potential in a whole slew of the starters who passed through Potomac this year.

On the reliever side, there’s a couple of guys here who may make an impact, but there’s also a whole slew of right handed middle relievers who were college senior graduates who may very quickly find themselves pushed out by the later crops of college senior draftees.

Harrisburg/AA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg's squad.  Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nathan Karns was the story of the year for AA Harrisburg’s squad. Photo Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This is the 3rd in the 2013 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Harrisburg/AA’s pitching staff for 2013.  Other parts of the 2013 series: Washington/MLB’s 2013 review and Syracuse/AAA’s 2013 review.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (featuring Danny Rosenbaum) and 2011′s version (featuring Brad Peacock) of this post specifically for Harrisburg/AA.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Harrisburg 2013 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Harrisburg Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Harrisburg starters.  The rotation started the season with Broderick, Treinen, Demny, Clay and Karns.  It ended with Karns, Cole, Treinen, Hill and Ray.   There were quite a few changes along the way.  Lets take a look at the AA starters:

  • Brian Broderick got the opening day start for Harrisburg but didn’t last very long, giving the team 7 mostly bad starts before hitting the D/L.  He got one more rehab start in the GCL and ended the season (I believe) on Potomac’s D/L list.  It doesn’t matter; Broderick’s time with the organization is likely done after quite a whirlwind trip; he was a 2010 rule-5 draftee from St. Louis who pitched for our MLB squad for nearly two months before being jettisoned back to the Cardinals.   St. Louis eventually waived him and we grabbed him in July 2012.  He toiled for AA last year and started there again this year.   Outlook for next season: MLFA, with another organization or perhaps out of affiliated baseball.
  • Blake Treinen, aka one of the “other guys” in the Michael Morse trade, quietly put together a pretty good season for the Senators.  In 21 games and 118 innings he had a 3.64 ERA and a nearly an identical 3.67 FIP.  He’s not a strike out guy (86 in 118 innings for a 6.5 K/9 rate, and he gave up more base-runners than you’d like to see (1.33 whip), which is odd considering his pedigree as one of the hardest throwers in the Nats farm system.  He missed a chunk of time this season with two separate D/L trips but made it back just in time to get hammered as the 4th starter in the playoffs.  I projected Treinen as an eventual back-of-the-bullpen arm thanks to his velocity, but for the time being the team should want to see if he can continue to develop as a starter.  Outlook for next season: back in AA as a starter, looking to push to AAA mid-season.
  • Paul Demny got 15 incredibly inconsistent starts for Harrisburg this year before a D/L trip resulted in his losing his rotation spot and then eventually losing his AA spot.  He ended the season in Potomac’s rotation but (likely out of respect for what the Potomac guys accomplished this year) did not participate in the High-A playoffs.  AA numbers for the year: 5-6, 4.95 ERA but 86 K/s in 83+ innings.  Outlook for next season: you have to think that he’s done as a starter, having failed to make the leap to AA for the second year running.  I”m predicting he’s in the AA bullpen.
  • Caleb Clay got 13 AA starts after signing as a MLFA before finishing the year in Syracuse.  See the AAA write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in the San Francisco organization.
  • Nathan Karns followed up his 2012 Nats Minor League Pitcher of the year with a dominant season at AA: 10-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 155 Ks in 132 innings.  He was the first minor league reinforcement starter to get the call-up to the majors this year. (here’s my “first look” post at his 5/28/13 debut).  In three MLB starts he got hit hard and was eventually returned (after an 11 day layoff) to the AA rotation.  He finished the season strong and got one great playoff win, but was hammered in the season-ending championship for a sour end to a great season.  Nonetheless, we saw the potential and the organization’s patience has been rewarded.  For now Karns remains a starter.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • Rob Gilliam ended up being the primary 6th starter/swing-man for Harrisburg this year, covering in the rotation as its original members got promoted, injured or demoted.  The “forgotten man” in the big Gio Gonzalez trade, Gilliam gave the Senators 18 starts and 90 innings of 4.40 ERA ball this year.  Nothing great but nothing awful; right now I see no reason to think he’s not going to serve in a similar same innings-eating role next year.  Outlook for next season: AA swing-man/spot-starter.
  • Taylor Hill had an exceptional season, stepping up from a guy who was throwing 5.00 ERA ball in low-A at the beginning of 2012 to a guy who was making a name for himself with sub 3.00 ERA pitching in AA by the end of 2013.  He earned a promotion out of Potomac with 14 excellent starts and continued the same work in AA.  His K/9 isn’t phenomenal (around 5.5 K/9 between both levels) and his FIPs show that his ERA was a bit lucky at both levels (3.38 FIP in high-A, 4.06 in AA) but the guy clearly knows how to pitch.  I think he’ll be a key man in the AA rotation next year.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Robbie Ray showed why I kept my faith in him despite his 6.56 ERA blow-up in Potomac in 2012.  He dominated high-A in the first half of the season (10.71 K/9 in 16 High-A starts) and continued the great work as one of the youngest starters in all of AA by the time the season was over.  Final AA numbers: 5-2, 3.72 ERA, 3.42 whip with 60 K’s in 58 innings.  As we all know by now, Ray was the feature player in the Doug Fister acquisition and clearly made a huge impression on the Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.  I’m sorry to see him go but I’m happy with the return he brought back.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Taylor Jordan passed through AA during his dream 2013 season, going 7-0 with a0.83 ERA in 9 appearances.  See Washington write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: AAA rotation.
  • A. J. Cole continued the trend of Potomac pitchers earning promotions, becoming the 5th of 5 starters who began the  year in Potomac to matriculate to AA.  He did not disappoint, going 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and greater than a K/inning to solidify his status as one of the top prospects in the organization.  The Michael Morse trade that engineered his return is looking better and better for the team.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation to start, looking for a mid-season promotion to AAA.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Matt Swynenberg got a few spot-starts heare and there; see the reliever section.
    • Ryan Tatusko dropped down to give AA a spot start; see AAA post.
    • Trevor Holder and Tyler Herron each got a spot start but were primarily relievers; see the reliever section.

Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  We’ll start with the closers and then run down the relievers by innings pitched.

  • Aaron Barrett was the primary closer for Harrisburg, earning 26 saves, striking out 69 in 50 innings and posting a 2.15 ERA.  His FIP was significantly lower (1.87) thanks to an inflated BABIP for the year.  Barrett’s performance on the year necessitated his protection on the 40-man roster: he was added in November ahead of the rule-5 draft.  His late August injury does not seem to be that threatening; the organization clearly thinks he’s got potential to help and i’m sure he’ll feature at some point in 2014 to cover for bullpen injuries.  Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, likely the closer again.
  • Tyler Herron is an interesting case: signed out of the independent leagues, he had not appeared in affiliated ball since 2009.  He quickly showed he was too good for High-A and stuck around as a back of the bullpen guy in Harrisburg the rest of the season, taking over for Barrett when he hit the D/L in August.  Final season stats: 6-2, 5 saves,  a 3.11 ERA, and an even better FIP.  Even better: 58 K’s in just 46 1/3 innings.  He proved to be a very versatile arm for this team.  Despite the fact that he was a MLFA signing last off-season, he’s not listed on BA’s MLFA list for this off-season; is he still with the organization?  I hope so: I think he can be useful going forward. Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen, if he’s still with the org.
  • Matt Swynenberg served as a longer reliever out of the bullpen and posted a 3.16 ERA in 74 innings over 36 appearances and 4 starts.   He continues his steady progression up the organization but remains off the prospect-radar.  He’s been rule-5 eligible two  years running now and hasn’t been sniffed.  He enters his last  year of pre-MLFA possibly topped out in the organization thanks to a numbers game in the AAA bullpen.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen.
  • Neil Holland was another big arm in the Harrisburg bullpen this year, posting 63 K’s in 50 relief innings to the tune of a 2.84 ERA/2.43 FIP.   Holland was a 2010 draftee who was Rule-5 eligible this year, but he slipped through the cracks and the Nats get to keep him off the 40-man roster for one more season.   He’s under-sized but has put up great numbers wherever he’s been; it is just a matter of time before he gets his shot.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to start, with a good likelihood of moving up soon.
  • Pat McCoy failed to make the jump from AA to AAA and was demoted back to Harrisburg after 7 ineffective AAA appearances.  Repeating AA for the third year, he posted a 4.32 ERA in 41 middle relief innings.  He exhaused his 6 years in the organization and has already signed elsewhere for 2014.  Outlook for next season: in the Detroit organization.
  • Matt Grace was one of NINE hurlers who earned promotions out of Potomac this year, and could be the next “sneaky good loogy” prospect that the organization develops.  He transitioned away from starting after the 2011 season and has seen his numbers improve.  In 38 AA innings this year he posted a 3.79 ERA but better looking 2.88 FIP.   He has good control but seems hittable; his career BABIP is especially high.  As with Holland, Grace passed through his first year of Rule-5 eligibility this year without any interest; he needs to push for a AAA promotion to get onto the MLB radar in 2014.   Outlook for next season: AA bullpen to continue as the lefty matchup guy.
  • Ian Krol exploded onto the scene for the organization, giving up just 2 earned runs in his first 21 appearances for Harrsiburg and getting a surprise  call-up in June.  See the MLB write-up for more.  Outlook for next season: in Detroit’s organization
  • Ryan Perry started the year in the AAA rotation under the National’s grand plan to make him a starter, and the experiment failed.  8 starts later, he boasted a 7.93 ERA.  He hit the D/L, then was demoted to Harrisburg.  There, he was outrighted off the 40-man roster and returned to the bullpen, where he was mediocre (4.43 ERA).   Outlook for next season: he has to show he can get AA hitters out; you have to think he’s starting in the AA bullpen again.
  • Richie Mirowski continues to impress; he has never posted an ERA above 2.61 at any level he’s appeared.  Not bad for a college senior draftee from a no-name college in the 45th round who likely signed for a bonus small enough to fit into the scout’s wallet who brought him his paperwork.  He posted a 1.50 ERA across 48 high-A innings and earned his promotion.  For Harrisburg he had a 12.63 K/9 rate in 20 innings and posted a 1.12 FIP in a small later-season sample size.  Not too shabby.  Outlook for next season: AA bullpen again, looking to force another promotion.
  • Pat Lehman was sent to AA after being a successful AAA guy in 2012 thanks to a numbers game; he promptly posted a 5.49ERA, got hurt and missed most of the season after just 13 appearances.  He did appear in 8 rehab games in the rookie league in August but did not make it back out of Florida.   Here’s the problem with Lehman; he has nothing to prove in AA; he already earned his stripes in AAA.  But is there enough room for him on the AAA roster in 2014?  He enters his 6th pro season and will face MLFA next year unless he pushes his way to the 40-man roster.   Outlook for next season: AAA bullpen competition, a possible release candidate?
  • Marcos Frias posted a 6.16 ERA in 19 innings and was dumped back to High-A.  There he posted an even worse 7.59 ERA and was released mid-season.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • Trevor Holder was repeating AA and had posted respectable numbers through the first month of the season when he was suddenly released to make room for Taylor Jordan‘s promotion on 5/8/13.  I was shocked; we were talking about a 3rd round pick after all.  He was immediately picked up by San Diego and possibly proved why the organization knows more than we do; he dropped down to high-A and was lit up in the California league (a 6.39 ERA in 100 innings).  Now, its the California league (land of small ball parks and high altitudes) so the numbers are inflated (just look at what happened to A.J. Cole out there in 2012), but the story remains the same; Holder’s high draft pick was viewed at the time as the Nats “punting” on the pick to save money, and Holder never really proved anyone wrong.  Outlook for next season: in San Diego’s organization.
  • Michael Broadway started in Harrisburg and quickly earned a promotion to Syracuse.  See the AAA writeup for more.  Outlook for next season: in the Toronto organization.
  • Bill Bray returned to the organization that drafted him, and returned to his “home” team; he grew up in Virginia Beach, went to William & Mary and in a bit of a personal interest item is cousins with a friend of mine; he was counting on him making the MLB team and reaping the benefits of free tickets for family and friends :-) .  However he struggled in the spring and was sent to minor league camp.  He stuck around Viera to work on his mechanics, finally got to Harrisburg and then, after just four outings, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.   He’s a MLFA again this off-season and it remains to be seen where he picks up.  I’d like to see him back here again, but Bray’s representatives have to be looking at the crowded bullpen and may suggest he continue his career elsewhere.   That is if he can recover from his latest injury.  To say that Bray has “unconventional” mechanics would be an understatement, and it is no shock that he’s struggled with arm issues his whole career.  Outlook for next season: MLFA, in another organization.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AA of note:

    • Christian Garcia pitched 4 rehab innings during his rehab tour of the organization.  See AAA write-up for more.
    • Ryan Mattheus pitched 4 innings of rehab over three games recovering from his broken hand.  See the MLB write-up for more.
    • Brian Rauh got a one-game call-up to provide bullpen cover.  See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Rob Wort pitched 3 AA innings before getting demoted to Potomac, where he spent the rest of the year.   See the high-A write-up for more.
    • Jose Lozada is normally a SS; he pitched one inning somewhere along the line in what likely was a blow-out loss.

Summary

Harrisburg got a ton of really good pitching this year, both from the starters and from the relievers.  And a ton of it matriculated up over the course of the year from Potomac.  Three guys on this squad jumped straight to the majors, and it isn’t hard to see another couple of these guys getting MLB debuts in 2014.

 

Syracuse/AAA Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013

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Roark was the story of the year from Syracuse. Photo via milb.com

Roark was the story of the year from Syracuse. Photo via milb.com

2nd in a series: here’s the opener, reviewing the Major league squad.

For some historical perspective, here’s 2012′s version (featuring John Lannan) and 2011′s version (featuring Tommy Milone) of this post for AAA Syracuse.

All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Syracuse Stats page or via Fangraph’s Syracuse Stats page.   Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker.

Syracuse starters.  The rotation started the season with Ohlendorf, Roark, Maya, Perry and Rosenbaum.  It finished the year with Maya, Tatusko, Rosembaum, Mandel and Clay.  Here’s an overview of the starters Syracuse used, starting with the original 5.

  • Ross Ohlendorf took a minor league gig with the Nationals to try to revitalize his career and went a somewhat pedestrian looking 4-6 in 13 starts.  His FIP (3.49) was better than his ERA (4.22) and his K/9 was good as he revamped his windup.  A streak of good starts led to his June call-up, where he basically spent the rest of the season as the Nats’ long-man/spot starter.  He tired as a starter, only going past the 5th inning three times, and Davey Johnson seemed hesitatant to use him because of it.  Outlook for next season: he did enough to get tendered a contract (which he quickly signed; 1yr/$1.25M), and seemingly he will slot back in as the long-man/spot-starter role for the MLB team.  He doesn’t seem to have enough to compete and win the 5th starter competition.  Will the team dump him to AAA as an inexpensive starter insurance policy?  I doubt it for now; they probably opt to keep Ohlendorf as the last guy out of the pen.
  • Tanner Roark started in the rotation, got shelled in his 2nd and (especially) his 3rd starts, and got dumped to the bullpen.  He toiled there for weeks before getting another shot in the rotation, and when he did he did very well.  By the time he got called up in August he had recovered from his 3 2/3 inning 10-run debacle in early April to post a 9-3 record with a 3.15 ERA and a 0.99 whip in AAA.  All he did upon arriving in the majors is pitch lights-out (a 252 ERA+) in 50 innings mixed with starts and relief apperances.  Outlook for next season: he’ll compete for the 5th starter job in spring but may not win it.  Its hard to imagine a guy who threw 50+ innings of 1.50 ERA ball to NOT make the team the following spring; he could end up replacing Ohlendorf as the long-man/spot starter for the MLB team.
  • Yunesky Maya made nearly a complete season worth of starts for Syracuse, going 8-8 with a 3.87 ERA.   However in his third (and last) opportunity to pitch for the major league club he got hammered, which led to a DFA in late May and an outright to Syracuse.  Maya pitched out the string, was not called up in September and was released in late November.  Outlook for next season: he has signed a minor league contract with Atlanta, closing the book on an unsatisfying tenure with the Nationals organization.
  • Ryan Perry started the year in the rotation under the National’s grand plan to make him a starter, and the experiment failed.  8 starts later, he boasted a 7.93 ERA.  He hit the D/L, then was demoted to Harrisburg.  There, he was outrighted off the 40-man roster and returned to the bullpen, where he was mediocre (4.43 ERA).  How odd; last year we were worried about Perry getting that needed 4th option; now he’s an org arm in AA.  This guy was pitching in a playoff team’s bullpen at 22, now he’s turning 27 and banished in the mid-minors.  Amazing.  Outlook for next season: he has to show he can get AA hitters out; you have to think he’s starting in the AA bullpen again, unless a numbers dearth pushes him by attrition to the AAA bullpen.
  • Danny Rosenbaum had a whirlwind spring, getting rule-5 drafted by Colorado and then subsequently returned in late March, just in time to pack his bags for upstate New York and take his spot in the back end of the Syracuse Rotation.  Rosenbaum led the 2013 rotation in starts and innings, going 7-11 with a 3.87 ERA.  He did not earn a September call-up, nor was he selected in 2013′s Rule-5 draft.  Unfortunately, Rosenbaum seems to have found his ceiling and may need a change of scenery to see if he can move forward.  Outlook for next season: one more season as Syracuse’s innings eating lefty, then a minor league free agent at the end of 2014.
  • Ryan Tatusko gave Syracuse a full season of swing-man production, starting in the pen and then ending in the rotation.  Final season stats: 5-8 with a 4.33 ERA in 28 appearances (18 starts).  Nothing special here: I just wish I knew what happened to the guy who was a lights-out starter for Texas’ AA franchise when we acquired him in 2010.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent, likely pitching in another organization.
  • Caleb Clay gave both AA and AAA 13 starts a-piece, finishing the year in Syracuse with excellent numbers (5-2, 2.49 ERA in 13 starts in AAA).   He turned out to be an excellent minor league FA signing for the organization; too bad they couldn’t keep him for 2014.  I was somewhat disappointed to see  him signing elsewhere, thinking that he could be a sneaky good pitcher for the Nats someday.  Outlook for next season: signed with San Francisco as a minor league free agent for 2014, where he stands a halfway decent chance of contributing at the MLB level, considering how bad Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum were in 2013.
  • Jeff Mandel continued to serve as the rubber arm swing man for Syracuse, a role that he’s essentially played for the Nats AAA affiliate in one way or another since 2010.  This year he got 10 starts and 100+ innings and continued to show unfortunately that his peak is as an organizational/innings eating arm.  Outlook for next season: Minor League Free Agent; he could sign on again with Washington as he did last off-season but he has to think that his path to the majors is easier with another team.
  • Chris Young was signed to a combo deal last off-season to give the team some starter insurance.  Instead he started hurt, pitched horribly in 7 starts, then went back on the D/L for essentially the rest of the season.   He gave up 50 hits in 32 AAA innings and was smoked for a 7.88 ERA.  Outlook for next season: the Nats must have seen something they liked during his rehab assignments, because they’ve already signed him to a minor league contract for 2014.  AAA rotation, hopefully healthy this time.
  • Brad Meyers was rule-5 drafted by the Yankees in 2012, got hurt for them, and was eventually returned in time for the 2013 season, but spent the entire year on the D/L.  He’s got enough time to be a MLFA but isn’t on BA’s list so I presume he’s still in the organization.  Outlook for next season: competing for a rotation spot in AAA; likely to be released if he doesn’t make the team.
  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there:
    • Matt Torra had 5 starts in June/July then got released.
    • Taylor Hill got a couple of spot starts in August and was sent back to AA; see Harrisburg’s writeup for more on him.
    • Christian Garcia got a couple of “starts” doing re-hab assignments; see the reliever section.
    • Tyler Robinson had a spot start and an extended outing; see the reliever section.
    • Paul Demny got a spot start call-up and was sent back down; see Harrisburg’s writeup for more.

Syracuse Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps.  We’ll organize relievers by looking at closers first, then by innings pitched.

  • Erik Davis was Syracuse’s closer in name for a bulk of the season, earning 15 saves while posting a 3.10 ERA in 52+ innings.  He was a Sept 2012 pre-rule5 40-man addition and spent a week in the MLB pen in June before getting recalled for September.  Out of his 10 MLB appearances he gave up zero runs in 9 of them and showed excellent middle-reliever stuff (12/1 K/BB ratio in 8 2/3 innings).  Outlook for next season: I don’t think he can crack the 7-man MLB bullpen so he’ll be in Syracuse again, but there’s a reason he got added to the 40-man and I think he features as MLB bullpen insurance throughout the year.
  • Michael Broadway was a MLFA signing who gave the organization excellent back-of-the-bullpen production the whole year, starting with Harrisburg and ending with Syracuse.  Outlook for next season: he has already signed a MLFA deal with Toronto for 2014, somewhat of a disappointment.  Like Clay, I would have liked to have kept this guy around if possible.
  • Michael Crotta was another organizational-filling MLFA signing in 2013 who, like Broadway, toiled well and ate innings in Syracuse.   Outlook for next season: MLFA again, likely signing elsewhere.
  • Tyler Robertson was a June 2013 waiver claim off of Minnesota, grabbed to help address the team’s lack of left-handed relievers.  Robertson pitched decently for Syracuse but was passed on the Loogy depth chart by several others.  He was outrighted in November ahead of the Rule-5 draft.  Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen, though if i’m not mistaken he’s got enough service time to be a MLFA.  I wonder if his outright and acceptance of assignment to Syracuse was effectively the Nats signing him to a 2014 ML contract?  This is a frequent question and I’m not enough of an expert on baseball transactions to know the answer.
  • Xavier Cedeno was an April 2013 waiver claim off of Houston (of all teams), who spent most of the season in Syracuse (save for a quick June call-up).  In September, he pitched pretty effectively, giving up just one run in 9 outings and 11+ innings for the big team.  He clearly hasn’t shown the team enough to be counted on as the go-to loogy, considering the Nats off-season trade for Jeremy Blevens and their talk of using the likes of Ross Detwiler and/or Sammy Solis as lefty reliever help in 2014.  And I know that many here think Cedeno is making the MLB roster; I just don’t see it right now.    Outlook for next season: Syracuse bullpen.
  • Mark Lowe was a mid-season MLFA pickup after getting released by the Angels.  He opted out of his contract at the end of the minor league season when he wasn’t getting added to the 40-man or called-up.   Outlook for next season: MLFA
  • Cole Kimball just never made it back from shoulder surgery and was outrighted in July.  He had an 8.06 ERA this year in 25 2/3 innings.   Outlook for next season: MLFA, likely out of baseball unfortunately.  Shoulder surgeries are just a killer.
  • Fernando Abad was a MLFA signing last off-season who pitched great for Syracuse and earned a call-up in May.   He toiled in the pen decently most of the year for the big-club but wasn’t considered valuable enough to keep.  The team DFA’d him ahead of this year’s rule-5 draft and then worked out a trade with our favorite GM Billy Beane.  Outlook for next season: in Oakland’s organization.
  • Christian Garcia got just 8 1/3 AAA innings this year (and 13 1/3 total in the minors on all rehab assignments) after getting hurt in spring training as the team tried to stretch him out as a starter.  I think the team now sees the error of its ways with Garcia, a fragile guy who has survived multiple surgeries to this point.  His stuff is so good, he’s a shoe-in for a MLB job if he’s healthy, but who can count on him to be healthy at this point?   Outlook for next season: if healthy, he’s competing for a 6th/7th inning role in the MLB bullpen.   He’s got plenty of options left though, so its likely he starts in the AAA bullpen given the crowded nature of the MLB pen right now.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in AAA of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league free agent in another organization.
    • Jeremy Accardo: signed in February, released in June after a 5.56 ERA in 22+ innings.  He did not resign anywhere and may be done.
    • Bobby Bramhall was signed in November, and released 3 weeks into the season after posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 innings to make room for Cedeno & Young on the roster.   He was picked up by Philadelphia and ended the season demoted to their AA team.
    • J.C. Romero opted out of his contract after 2 months despite 15 decent apperances; it was clear the Nats weren’t calling him up and were favoring other loogy candidate acquisitions.  He was picked up by Cleveland, threw two innings and apparently went on the D/L.
    • Pat McCoy failed to make the jump from AA to AAA and was demoted back after 7 ineffective appearances; see the Harrisburg write-up for more.
    • Brian Dupra was called up for one game oddly; he spent most of the season in low- and high-A.  See Potomac’s write-up for more.

Summary

Despite the nature of AAA these days as being a “spare parts” storage team, Syracuse produced a couple of very pleasant surprises for this team.  Ohlendorf went from being a throw-away MLFA signing to a productive MLB long man.  Roark was one step from the dreaded “org guy/MLFA” category, and when given a chance pitched fantastically at the MLB level.  Plus, the development of loogy depth in the form of Robertson and Cedeno will serve the organization well.

 

What is the “ceiling” of various Nats pitching prospects? (Updated for 2013)

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Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Can Giolito live up to his potential? Photo unk via federalbaseball.com

Two off-seasons ago, I did an analysis piece discussing the “ceilings” of the various pitchers (focusing on starters in the system) on our major and minor league rosters.   That led to some good discussions in the comments about what the definition of a pitcher’s ceiling is, about what a “#3″ starter is, etc.

Now that the 2013 season has ended, I thought it’d be a good topic to revisit and factor in recent performances and the last couple year’s worth of player movement in and out of the organization.

This post mostly focuses on the Starters we have in the organization.  There’s no real mention of guys who are already in the bullpen (either in the majors or the minors) unless we have heard rumors of them converting back to being starters at some point or another.


Some setup

What do I mean by a #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5 starter?  With some simple examples (from the 2011 post)

  • A #1 starter is a MLB-wide “Ace,” one of the best 15-20 pitchers in the league, someone who you’re genuinely surprised if he performs badly on a given day, opten mentioned in Cy Young conversations.   Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.
  • A #2 starter is a  slight step down from your elite “Aces,” but still an excellent starter.  Can challenge for the top awards if they put everything together for a season, but remains consistently above average.   I see guys like Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey or James Shields in this category
  • A #3 starter is better than your league average pitcher, someone who is solid, consistent innings eater and who routinely gives you quality starts but not much more than that.   I think of guys like Mark Buehrle, Kyle Lohse, or John Lackey here.
  • A #4 starter is basically someone defined as someone who’s a slight step above the back-of-the-rotation guy, usually a veteran guy who knows how to pitch but doesn’t have the best stuff to really go much beyond or a younger guy who is establishing a foothold of a career.   Good examples from this year could include the likes of Kyle Kendrick, or Edwin Jackson or Bronson Arroyo.
  • A #5 starter is just good enough to fill out your rotation.  Starters at the back end who all you’re hoping for is 6 innings and keeping your team in the game.  Think of someone like Jason Marquis at this point in his career, or Ryan Vogelsong.

For clarity; if your team has three excellent pitchers, it does not mean that a league-wide ace is defined by these standards as a “#3″ starter.  When the Phillies big 3 of Roy HalladayCliff Lee and Cole Hamels were all healthy and firing on all cylinders a couple of years back, all three were #1 starters in my book.  Just because Hamels pitched third in the rotation didn’t mean he was a “#3 starter.”

Also before getting going, a quick discussion on “ceiling” versus “predictions” and what I’m trying to do here.  As was pointed out when I posted on this topic in 2011, a pitcher’s “ceiling” is quite literally the highest level of capability that we can expect that pitcher to accomplish given a perfect set of circumstances.   Scouts routinely talk about player “ceilings” and “number X” starters as a convenient way to speak a common language when describing a pitcher.   I like to be a bit more grounded in predicting what may happen to pitchers, so this analysis is less about the perfect-scenario “ceiling” as it is a thoughtful prediction on where a guy may eventually fit in given his talents and his performances as compared to scouting reports and industry buzz.


Updated ceiling predictions for Nats pitchers post 2013 season:

Nationals Starter Ceilings (per scouting reports, personal observations).  I’m not going to include any MLFAs here, assuming that they’re all either 4-A or minor league starters as a ceiling.  I’m also only really going down to full-season ball guys, throwing in a couple of our higher-end prospects.  Its just impossible to really project guys in rookie ball unless you’re a professional scout.

  • #1: Strasburg, Giolito
  • #2: Gonzalez, Zimmermann
  • #3: Cole, Ray
  • #4: Jordan, Roark
  • #5: Detwiler, Solis
  • MLB bullpen: Purke, Karns, Ohlendorf, Garcia, Johansen, Treinen
  • 4-A starter: Hill, Mooneyham, Schwartz, Voth, Meyers
  • Minors starter: Rosenbaum, Maya, Gilliam, Rauh, Anderson, Encarnacion, Bacus, Turnbull
  • Minors bullpen: Perry, Demny, RPena

Discussion:

#1 Starters: Stephen Strasburg is already an “Ace” starter in this league, ranking up among the 15-20 best arms out there.   However he’s no longer considered in the same class as the likes of Kershaw, thanks to injury and a curious lack of dominance this year (have a draft post on this topic that i’ll expand on later).  Lucas Giolito is widely considered the Nats top prospect and an easy future #1 pitching prospect.  Big guy, big arm, and by all accounts has come back post TJ surgery.  The BA guys think that he could be the #1 prospect in the entire minors with another dominant 2014.  How quickly can he move through the minors?  Can he stay healthy?  Right around the time Giolito arrives, the Nats “3 big names” could all be at the end of their current contracts and an interesting conundrum could face the team; keep the band together?  Or let these guys go and re-load/re-build?

#2 Starters: Just as Gio Gonzalez made the leap to a #2 starter with his Cy Young challenging 2012, Jordan Zimmermann has made that leap by virtue of his near-20 win season in 2013.  I believe these two guys can stay as #2 starters for the next few years, until they hit the regression stages of their careers.

#3 Starters:  A.J. Cole has regained his mojo after bouncing around the California league and advanced to AA this year.  He features a significant fastball and but complaints in the scouting world about his secondary stuff lead him to a #3 starter prediction.  I think he should be a #2 ceiling, and perhaps a spring training working with the Nats staff can get him back where we thought he was when we drafted him.  I’m sure picking Robbie Ray to have a higher likely ceiling than his 2013 AA counterparts would be mocked.  But look at the evidence: he’s the same age and same draft class as Cole and has consistently out-performed him when they’ve been on the same team.  He’s lefty, he averaged well over a K/inning this year, and suddenly he’s 22 and he may be “done” with AA.  Why aren’t his credentials higher with prospect-watchers?  It isn’t has if he’s a soft-tosser; he throws decent stuff from the left side.  I continue to think he’ll move along with Cole and they’ll be promoted to the majors within a couple of weeks of each other, perhaps mid 2015.

#4 Starters: If you want to say I’m crazy for thinking that Tanner Roark can maintain his September pace as a starter for this team, I can understand.  I’m not personally convinced that he’s going to be a mediocre 6th inning reliever or continue to be a Kris Medlen-in-2012 anomoly who continues to get guys out.  For now, i’m rooting for the better story.  Meanwhile I’m also not convinced that I have Taylor Jordan pegged properly; I think honestly he could be a #3 pitcher in the league.  This lack of real punch-out capabilities is what’s holding him back for now.  That being said, guys don’t just come up to the majors and post a 3.66 ERA.  For now, a #4 ceiling sounds good.

#5 StartersI’ve come to believe that Ross Detwiler‘s reached his ceiling; his 2012 season is as good as we’re going to see him.  Not because of a lack of talent; its because he just can’t stay healthy.  I’ve seen and heard reports that Detwiler’s stuff is fantastic; that’s great on paper but he just can’t seem to translate that to the big club on a consistent basis.  I would not shed a tear if he headed to the bullpen, other than to think that its a waste of his talents.   I also feel like Sammy Solis will stay as a starter and continue to climb up the ranks, and tops out as a 5th starter just by virtue of his being left handed.  There’s just something to be said about being a lefty with decent stuff being able to hang around the league (think of someone like Eric Stults).  

MLB Bullpen: Right now i’m projecting a whole handful of our good minor league starters to eventually get transitioned to the bullpen.  Which is good and bad; good for this team as they continue to develop arms and continue to have quality guys in the pen.  But bad in that it predicts a severe thinning of the starting pitching corps.  First off, I think the Christian Garcia as starter experiment is over; he needs to focus on being a reliever so that he can stay healthy and contribute.   I believe that Ross Ohlendorf‘s time as a starter is over, but he should slot in nicely as the 7th guy/long-man/spot-starter that this team will need here and there in 2014.  The more I think about Nathan Karns, the more I think he’d make an excellent setup guy.  Big arm, big fast-ball, not really that much secondary stuff.  He got hit hard as a starter; in shorter stints he could dial it up more and focus on his limited arsenal.   Unfortunately I think Matthew Purke may be headed to the pen as well, but his gun-slinger action could make him an excellent later-innings pitcher, perhaps even a closer, if he can translate that to a bit more velocity.  Lastly the reported two biggest arms in the minors (Jake Johansen and Blake Treinen) project for now as bullpen guys.  Again, I hope I’m wrong, but so far the evidence seems to point at big velocity and little else.

What is a 4-A starter?  A guy basically who looks good in AAA but who, for whatever reason, can’t translate that success to the Majors.  They may get a call-up here and there but never pitch well enough to stick.  This is how I see a handful of guys ending up: Brad Meyers has been hanging around this status for several seasons and just can’t get a break.   I’ve also tagged some guys with good numbers in the lower minors but with fringy scouting reports with this for now, thinking that a lack of a dominant fastball means they’ll stay as a starter until they reach their peak.  Taylor HillBlake Schwartz, and Austin Voth all seem to fit this bill.  Lastly the curious lack of dominance of Brett Mooneyham lends me to believe he’ll end up in this predicament as well.  I hope I’m wrong here; I’d love to see these guys take the leap, or (save that) find success in the bullpen.

Career Minors Starter: Unfortunately, I think we’ve seen the best that Danny Rosenbaum and Yunesky Maya can give; they’ve both had shots at a major league roster and couldn’t stay.  I think they’ll retire as AAA starters.  The rest of these guys listed are mediocre-to-decent starters in the system who don’t seem to be listed as true prospects.  I’m specifically disappointed thus far in Kylin Turnbull, who couldn’t make the leap to high A and seems like he needs to make some sort of adjustment in 2014.

Career Minors Bullpen guys: When Ryan Perry passed through waivers off the 40-man roster, his chances of ever making it back to the majors took a huge dent.  Paul Demny‘s precipitous drop this season also seems to spell doom for his career.  And apropos of nothing else, Ronald Pena seems like he has achieved the dreaded “organizational arm” tag.


On the bright side, the top-heavy nature of this list gives fans optimism for the power of this rotation for years to come.  In 3 year’s time (if Giolito, Ray and Cole all matriculate as expected) you’d have two Aces, two #2s and two #3s to choose from for your rotation.  That’s significant, considering that lots of teams are scraping the bottom of the barrel for their 5th starter.  If Ray and Cole turn into servicable major leaguers, you could trade/let go a guy who gets too expensive (Gonzalez or Zimmermann) with an able, cheap replacement.  Maybe I’m too high on Ray and Cole (who are both youngsters) … but then again maybe i’m too low on Jordan and Roark (both of whom have already shown the ability get major league hitters out).

Agree/Disagree/Hate what I’ve written?  I’m open to criticism.

 

August-September 2013: Minor League Monthly Rotation Review

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Roark is our ML inspirational story of the year.  Photo via milb.com

Roark is our ML inspirational story of the year. Photo via milb.com

Here’s the final Minor League Rotation Review post for the season (Here’s April 2013May 2013, June 2013 and July 2013‘s posts for historical viewing).  Since the minor league seasons mostly end right after the Labor Day weekend, this post actually includes a few days in September for each non-playoff team.  We’ll also include the playoff starts for those teams that made it, which has pushed this post well into September (and very late) to include all the playoff starts for our many minor league playoff teams.

For each level, I’ll put out the rotation members, their “letter grades” per start for this month only, and then throw in a quick link to show their seasonal stats for context.  For each team there are 3 distinct groups of starters: the top group of 5-6 Starters per level is the “current rotation” as best as I can figure it, then the next section of pitchers are swing-men or spot-starters or guys who had “2nd start” or longer outings worthy of grading, followed by a 3rd group of guys who are generally no longer with the team (either by D/L, promotion, demotion or release).  I’ve only listed the third category if something transactionally has happened to the player this particular month.

 


AAA Rotation: click here for Syracuse Milb.com stats

  • Rosenbaum: A,D,D,C+,B+,C+,C-
  • Maya: A,C,B+,C+,B+
  • Mandel:B,A,A,A,D+,B+
  • Clay: A,C+,A,B+,C,A
  • Tatusko: F/inc,F,A-,D,D,D-,D
  • Robertson: A-
  • Kimball: B
  • Roark: B- -> promoted
  • Ohlendorf: B+ (rehab)
  • Hill: C-,C- -> demoted back down post spot starts

Discussion: Syracuse drug itself to the finish line of a disappointing season withat least some stability in the rotation.  The 5 guys standing at the end were basically the rotation for the entire month.  Tanner Roark was rewarded for a great season by getting called up to provide some long relief in the MLB bullpen and 6 weeks later is now 7-0 with the best ERA for any pitcher with more than 40 innings in the entire MLB.   Roark’s trade-mate Ryan Tatusko really struggled down the stretch and finishes with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.58 whip on the season.  Meanwhile, Caleb Clay continues his career resurgence and may have put himself in place to pick his spot in MLFA next year (well, unless the Nats hold onto him by putting him on the 40-man, not a bad idea).  Jeff Mandel and Yunesky Maya pitched well while playing out the string; both are MLFAs and both may choose to look elsewhere.

 


AA: click here for Harrisburg Milb.com stats

  • Karns: B+,A,D,A,C+,A,A+ (playoffs), F (playoffs)
  • Treinen: C+,A,F (playoff)
  • Cole: A+,C,C-,B-,A,C (playoff),C+ (playoff)
  • Hill: B -> up/down,A-,D,C+,A (playoff)
  • Ray: A,B,D,B-,D,A+,A+ (playoff)
  • Gilliam: D,D+,C-,D -> demoted to bullpen for Treinen?/spot starts?,A-
  • Swynenberg: D,B -> back to bullpen,B+

Discussion: Harrisburg played great down the stretch to reach the playoffs, then won a series before losing in the League Final.  Nathan Karns recovered from his to really pitch well in August and in the first round of the playoffs before getting hammered in the league final series.  Robbie Ray did nothing to damage his career advancement, pitching a gem in his playoff appearance.  Fellow HS phenom draftee A.J. Cole pitched well enough in the playoffs, good enough to get the wins each time.


High-A:  click here for Potomac Milb.com stats

  • Purke: B,A,B,B+,C,A,C (playoff)
  • Demny: B+/weird game,D+,C+,C+,A,C
  • Mooneyham: F,D,F-,C (playoff)
  • Solis: A,D,C+,B,B-,F,A (playoff),F (playoff)
  • Schwartz: A,D+,A-,B-,A+,C,A+ (playoff)
  • Rauh B+,A,D-,C- (lost rotation spot to Mooneyham?)
  • Fischer: -> D/L
  • Bates A-
  • Holt: B+ (abbr)
  • Dupra: D-,A-
  • Ohlendorf | | | | D (rehab)

DiscussionBlake Schwartz was the most consistent of the starters for Potomac this month (and this season really).  Mooneyham struggled after his promotion but saved his best game for the playoffs.  Matthew Purke pitched decently in the month but his seasonal numbers remain poor.  Sammy Solis had a couple of dud outings, including his playoff appearance, but on the whole I think his 2013 is a success coming off surgery.  Paul Demny seems like he’s bound for the bullpen soon; he’s shown multiple times he cannot compete as a starter above the high-A level.

 


Low-A: click here for Hagerstown Milb.com stats

  • Turnbull: B+,A-,A,B,B,A,B- (playoff),F (playoff)
  • Encarnation: C-,C,B+,B-,C+,B-,F,B (playoff)
  • Bacus: A,A+ (playoff long relief),D (playoff)
  • Voth: D+,A+,A (playoff)
  • Johansen: D,D,A (playoff)
  • RPena: B+,A-,A+ (playoff long relief)
  • Dickson: D-,D+,A,B+,A- -> demoted to bullpen for Bacus
  • Mooneyham: A,A+,A,A+ -> promoted
  • Lee: F,C+,A+,D,B+ -> d/l for Bacus

Discussion: I wonder how it played in the Hagerstown clubhouse that 3/5ths of their playoff rotation had been with the team less than 3 weeks?  Dakota Bacus especially; he was acquired, made one start and was a playoff starter.  Austin Voth and Jake Johansen were due promotions no doubt, but to immediately get thrown into the low-A playofs in place of guys who had worked longer and harder to get the Suns there seems, well, wrong.  Nonetheless, longer serving Sun pitchers such as Ronald Pena, Kylin Turnbull and Pedro Encarnacion (not Edwin, thanks to commenter Melissa) all finished off good seasons and will look at high-A next spring.

 


Short-A: click here for Auburn Milb.com stats

  • Orlan: | | C+,A,C- | F-,B-,A,A,F | B,A,A-,D+,D,B+
  • Giolito: | | | | A,A,B
  • Selsor: | | B-,F,C+ | B,D,D -> demoted to bullpen | A,B+,D+
  • Pivetta: | | | | D,D,D -> demoted to bullpen for Selsor?/maybe not,B+,A
  • Ullmann: | | | F,B+ | B,D-,B+,C-
  • Simms: | | | | D+,F
  • Barrientos: F,F,F -> demoted to bullpen for Simms
  • DWilliams: F -> demoted
  • Voth: B+,A+,A+ -> promoted
  • Treinen: A/inc (rehab start),A+ (rehab)
  • Johansen: A-,A,A+ -> promoted
  • Young: A (rehab)

Discussion: Lots of ugly pitching lines for Auburn this year.  Casey Selsor and Nick Pivetta struggled to stay in the rotation, the team struggled to replace the production they got out of promoted starters Voth and Johansen, and the results showed on the field.  Robert Orlan was the staff-leader in innings and seems like a good bet for a full-season starter’s job next year.  The rest of this motley crue of starters leaves Auburn with ERAs in the 4s and 5s (or higher) and likely bullpen roles going forward.


GCL: click here for GCL-Nationals Stats on MiLB.com

  • JRodriguez: B+,C,C,D/inc,A-,B+ (playoff)
  • Silvestre: A-,A,A,A-,A+ (playoff)
  • Suero: A,A+,A+ (playoff)
  • Ott: B,A,A,B/inc
  • DWilliams: B+,D-,A
  • KRodriguez: D-,C
  • Valdez: C,B+
  • DeRosier: C,B
  • Waterman: B,B-
  • Sylvestri: A-
  • Reyes: D
  • Pivetta: promoted
  • Giolito: A,A,A -> promoted
  • Young: 2-inning rehab

GCL’s trio of dominant pitchers (Jefry RodriguezWander Suero and Hector Silvestre) powered the team to an easy GCL victory after its record breaking season.   Most of the rest of the staff had graded outings of chunks of like 3-4 innings, so it was difficult to really pass judgement on the chances of sticking as a starter.  Lucas Giolito of course earned his promotion to short-A at the end of the season and seems a good bet to be a low-A migrating to high-A starter in 2014.