Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Minor League Rotations Cycle #1: good/bad/inconclusive

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Detwiler's first start in AAA was masterful. Photo: Cathy T via nationalsdailynews.com

Because of the importance of developing starting pitching in the modern baseball game, I’ve always tried to focus on the minor league rotations, looking for the next John Lannan (meaning, a lower round draft pick never expected to become a regular MLB starter) to rise through and force his way into the discussion for 2011 and beyond.  With 4 full-season teams all starting at the same time (and 2 more short-season teams starting up mid-June), i’ll try to do a quick review of the progress, start by start, of our minor league affiliates.  I will focus mostly on Starters but mention relievers of note.

For this analysis I depend heavily on the excellent reviews at NationalsProspects.com, as well as a series of level-by-level links that you can find at my personal “cheat sheet” of websites (scroll to the bottom for the affiliate-specific links for rosters, stats, schedules, and local paper links).  If it were not for “Sue Dinem” and April Whitzman at that site carrying on the flame for Brian Oliver and natsfarmauthority.com, it would be far more difficult to follow the minor leagues for all of us.  Thank you, again, for all that you do.

Here are the daily links from NationalsProspects, for reference below:

Good

  • Brad Meyers picks up right where he left off last season: 5IP 4H 0R 0BB 9K in his opening day start.  The staff had 15 k’s on the day against a very strong Bowie team (11 of the Orioles’ top 30 prospects are at Bowie).
  • Cameron Selik‘s professional starting debut went very well in Hagerstown: 5IP 4H 0R 0BB 4K.  Not as overpowering as Meyers but 5 shutout innings with no walks is a good sign.
  • Ross Detwiler‘s AAA debut was quite dominant; 6IP 4H 1ER 1BB 8K.  Remember, he’s not in AAA because he didn’t pitch his way off the major league roster.  I still believe he’s the first to be called up when needed.
  • Lefty Matt Grace pitched well in his debut in Hagerstown: 6IP 4H 0R 0BB 4K.  I like the sleeper capabilities of Grace, an 8th round pick in 2010 out of UCLA.
  • Garrett Mock‘s Nationals career continues on; he went 5 2/3s, 3 hits, 3bbs 1 run (on a homer) and 6 Ks in a ND against the Philadelphia AAA team from Lehigh Valley.
  • Chris McKenzie‘s initial start was very good: 5IP 1H 1R 1ER 3BB 3K.  He’s young too; he doesn’t turn 22 til after the season.  A far cry from his numbers up in Vermont last season.
  • Tom Milone’s 4/10 start was clean and efficient: 7.0IP 5H 0ER 0BB 4K.  You can’t quibble with 7 shutout innings and no walks in AAA.  All he’s done the last two seasons is produce, level by level.
  • Craig Stammen‘s return to the rotation (after seemingly being considered for the MLB club as a middle reliever during spring training) went well: 5IP 3H 1ER 1BB 3K.  He’s in a tough spot; his FIP/xFIP numbers last year indicated he was pitching around MLB average for all starters (his numbers were 3.95/3.97, MLB median for qualified starters in 2010 was 3.85/4.09).  But his “regular” numbers were bad; era of 5.06 and whip of 1.46.  In some ways he’s kinda like JD Martin; he doesn’t really dazzle you with his stuff, but he gets it done.
  • Marcos Frias took a loss in his opening start for Potomac but pitched well; 6IP 4H 1R 1ER 1BB 2K.  Lets hope his 2nd year in high-A goes better than his first (a 5.69 era in 2010).

Bad

  • Yunesky Maya‘s opening day start was horrible.  4.2IP 8H 5ER 2BB 2K 1HR.  I’m a big Maya fan and want to see him succeed, but lines like this will make his signing seem like a mistake.

Mediocre/Inconclusive

  • Ryan Tatusko‘s first start was cut short after just 4 innings (not sure why; he was only at 73 pitches).  4 hits, 4 walks, 5 Ks and 2 earned runs for a mediocre start.  Harrisburg’s offense couldn’t score any runs on the day so he wasn’t getting the Win regardless.
  • Denny Rosenbaum‘s loss on 4/9 wasn’t that bad really; 5IP 2H 3R 2ER 3BB 4K.  Sue Dinem reported that two walks and an error led to a bases-clearing double.  Rosenbaum struck out 4 of the first 7 batters he faced, then retired the last 8 hitters after the double.  So I like the capability of dominance.
  • Luis Atilano‘s line in his AA start (5.0IP 4H 2ER 2BB 2K) may seem ok, but I’d expect more from a guy who was pitching in the majors last year.  He is coming back from elbow surgery, so perhaps this is just rust.  Either way, i’m slightly surprised at this point to see him in any of our minor league rotations, given his removal from the 40-man and thus his lowered prospect status.
  • Trevor Holder had a so-so start in high-A; 6IP 6H 3R 3ER 2BB 3K.  Potomac blogger Sue Dinem notes that (paraphrasing) Holder doesn’t have blow-it-by-you stuff and has to keep his pitches down to succeed (something he didn’t do much of yesterday).  I agree with commenters on the above link; Holder was an overdraft to begin with and was just OK last year in Potomac.  He may be bound for the bullpen.
  • Bobby Hansen‘s first Hagerstown start was decent: 5IP 7H 2R 2ER BB 5K.  Too many baserunners but I like the K/inning rate.  He’s a youngster (doesn’t turn 22 til after the season) and a lefty, so I won’t be too critical.

Other notes/thoughts

  • The Hagerstown Rotation has been fun to predict and now see unfold for those of us who track these things.  My offseason prediction was Solis, Clegg, Demny, Jenkins, and Grace.  Then when the roster was announced (and as it turned out Clegg/Demny were in high-A and Solis on the DL) I predicted Grace, Hansen, Jenkins, Jordan and McKenzie.  One turn through the rotation now seems to be Selik, Grace, McKenzie, Hansen and Jordan, with Applebee as a spot-starter.  Solis probably is still in the picture; he had a muscle injury and is extended spring training right now.
  • JD Martin, whose retainment I have questioned in this forum based on his lack of upside, his age and his here-to-fore demonstrated performance in the majors, seems (at least so far) to be the long-man out of Syracuse’s bullpen and NOT in the rotation.  He pitched 4 innings of relief on 4/8, and while he pitched well (4IP 1H 0R 1BB 3K) I still don’t see him in the majors for us again (he successfully was outrighted to AAA and his 40-man slot may never appear again).
  • As a possible consequence of the Martin decision, Craig Stammen is (at least for now) featuring as a AAA starter.  I find this somewhat encouraging for him right now; I think he can still produce as a starter.  But he may get moved to long-man as our AA prospects force promotions.
  • Matt Chico seems to be now relegated to a LOOGY role in AAA, which may not be a bad thing for the team.  Slaten has struggled in the role and Chico could make his way back to the majors in a lefty specialist role.  I like this option, since Chico clearly can be stretched out and give the team spot starter/long relief as needed (especially since the team basically can’t use Broderick for anything but mop up duty right now).
  • Commenter favorite Christopher Manno indeed seems to be the closer in Hagerstown, getting the save in friday’s game.
  • Newly acquired Alex Caldera is off to a rocky start; he got absolutely shelled on 4/11.
  • Late spring training acquisition Lee Hyde has been up and down so far for Syracuse.

Summary

All in all, a bunch of really encouraging starts up and down the system during the season’s first week.   Great news.  Only one really “bad” start in the whole system.  A bunch of rain outs over the last couple days prevented us from seeing several starters during the first “turn” through the rotation, but double headers for Potomac and Hagerstown will get everyone started.

Written by Todd Boss

April 12th, 2011 at 10:41 am

10 Responses to 'Minor League Rotations Cycle #1: good/bad/inconclusive'

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  1. A lot to like so far, and a couple of outright shocks. Cameron Selik, who you earlier were as stunned as me on this, was drafted as a 22nd round reliever who must have impressed a lot of F. O. people in the offseason to become the opening day starter (!!!). When I saw that, actually had to go back and find who this guy even was.

    Mark L

    12 Apr 11 at 11:36 am

  2. I forgot this earlier. From draft guru Andy Seiler after the 2010 draft on Matt Grace………. 6’3″ 190 lbs. “Grace was part of a loaded pitching staff at UCLA this spring, and he filled a very specific lefty specialist role for them. He only has stuff to be a lefty specialist at the next level, and this is exactly in the range I thought he’d go”.

    The Nats obviously saw something that no one else did, from lefty specialist to starter after working him the offseason. Very promising.

    Mark L

    12 Apr 11 at 12:47 pm

  3. Man, I hope we didn’t draft a loogy in the 8th round :-)

    Todd Boss

    12 Apr 11 at 1:41 pm

  4. Maya got rained out today … guess we see him tomorrow? Or will Knorr just move on to Detwiler?

    Right now Milone looks like the most promising starter … over Detwiler, Mock, Maya, and Stammen. I expected this and for JD Martin to be in a similar spot. However, he is now working in middle relief (this could change of course) and he has been extremely effective. Chico has been working the other end as the lefty out of the bullpen. He lost a game in the 10th allowing a double and then the run scored on his wild pitch. He looks worst than Maya at this point and is danger of being released.

    The 7,8,9 set up and close have been outstanding in Syracuse led by Kimball, Balester and Wilkie. Especially Kimball and Wilkie. Kimball is probably headed for the majors in June. One wonders about Josh Wilkie.

    peric

    12 Apr 11 at 2:14 pm

  5. Maya is just as important to this team as Detwiler; i’d guess everyone slides down a notch and they skip Stammen if everyone’s on too-long a rest.

    Definitely like Milone. He’s not even on the 40-man roster or rule5 eligible yet. That’s fantastic. I wouldn’t put him above Detwiler though in terms of capabilities; we know Detwiler can pitch a the MLB level (we just don’t know how well yet b/c he keeps getting hurt). I question whether or not Mock, Stammen, Chico, Martin and Wilkie are in the system in 2012 though.

    Todd Boss

    12 Apr 11 at 4:09 pm

  6. Peric,
    Don’t know what you’re seeing about this in Syracuse, but Knorr seems the heir apparant to Riggleman.
    Have been reading for awhile now that if the Nats don’t make him a manager in the bigs soon, another club will.

    Mark L

    12 Apr 11 at 4:56 pm

  7. manno just kicked some kentucky ass!! 5ks in 2 innings…

    Jay R

    12 Apr 11 at 10:20 pm

  8. @MarkL,

    Knorr is putting his stamp on Syracuse. AK shot a tweet back stating that my notion about Knorr preferring Jhonatan Solano over Flores had no bearing on the decision to call Flores up. I suspect that it wasn’t entirely why … but it was taken into account by the Nats brain trust. Have to wonder if Flores will be returned to Syracuse whenever this season? I suspect you’ll see Norris (if he doesn’t get maimed again!) in Syracuse with Solano soon. These two are Knorr’s preferred catching tandem. Maldonado either released or transferred to Harrisburg.

    Knorr’s managing seems a bit like Riggleman’s. He uses the double-switch extensively. He double-switched Solano in and Flores out in the last 10th inning loss. Like Riggleman his “double-switches” seem to indicate which players he clearly favors as starters or ‘psuedo starters’ and those he does not.

    peric

    12 Apr 11 at 11:20 pm

  9. @ToddBoss,

    If Milone continues to show that his curve and slider are effective into the late innings (preserving the SYR bullpen) you don’t think Rizzo will notice? Detwiler has yet to truly accomplish this feat. in AAA/AA or the majors. The same is true for Stammen, Mock, and Maya. Now JD Martin has shown himself capable of this in AAA with mixed results in the majors. JD Martin just needs another out pitch and he might be lights out into the late innings. Don’t know if that will happen in time or not?

    peric

    12 Apr 11 at 11:23 pm

  10. My prediction on Flores: 100% trade bait. Ramos is clearly showing that he’s the catcher of now and the immediate future. Norris (despite his injury) still needs 1-2 more minor league seasons. Flores needs to be showcased as healthy and as capable on both sides of the ball as he was 2 years ago, then we flip him to a team in need. And there are several teams that would love to have a better catcher (quickly looking at depth charts i’d put the Angels, perhaps KC, Seattle, Florida, and ironically the Mets all could use a new catcher). If i was the team i’d keep him up and get him ABs somehow and start making phone calls.

    Todd Boss

    13 Apr 11 at 11:14 am

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