Nationals Arm Race

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

Hagerstown/Low-A Pitching Staff year in Review; 2011

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Despite injury issues, Taylor Jordan was your best low-A starter this year. Photo via wffn.net/hueytaxi on flikr.com

(4th in a series looking at all the minor league levels of pitching.  AAA, AA and High-A links).

The Hagerstown rotation was one of real interest all season, with teenage prospects AJ Cole and Robbie Ray both holding down spots, with 2010 2nd rounder Sammy Solis putting in his Nats debut, and with unexpected performances from unexpected players.

Here’s the status of the Hagerstown pitching staff at the end of the season (ages are as of 9/30/11)

  • Starters:  Cole 19, Ray (L) 19, Grace (L) 22, Demmin (L) 23, Swynenberg 22
  • Bullpen: SBrown 24, Eusebio 23, McCatty 24, Holt, Graham 23, Weaver 23, McKenzie 22
  • spot starts:  Applebee(L) 23
  • promotions: Bronson (sort of), Selik, Solis, Holland
  • up-and-back: Weaver
  • demotions:  Jenkins(L) 23, Bates 21
  • dl: McGeary 22, Jordan 22, Hansen (L) 21
  • cut/released/traded: Hicks (traded), Ott, Vasquez, Erb, Garcia, Gibson, Manno (traded), Arnold

Hagerstown starters.  The rotation started the season with Selik, Grace, McKenzie, Hansen and Jordan.  Here’s how these guys and the rest of the pitchers fared in 2011.

  • Cameron Selik was a revelation, giving up just one run in his first 29 innings pitched before earning his promotion to high-A.  This after not even being on the radar after his quiet debut in short-A in 2010.  Outlook for next season (from high-A post): starting in the High-A rotation with an eye towards moving upwards.
  • Matt Grace was the sole starter in the Hagerstown corps who lasted the entire year in the rotation.  Unfortunately, he was merely average most of the year before tailing off badly with some really bad starts in August which really spoiled his lines. Final season stats: 12-7, 5.17 era.  He gave up a LOT of hits (169 in 132 innings).   Outlook for next season: I’d guess he competes for the high-A rotation, but may be converted to a bullpen arm.
  • Christopher McKenzie had a very rough 2011, posting nearly a 7.00 ERA in 13 appearances (10 starts).  He struggled early, lost his rotation spot when the teenage duo of Ray/Cole were placed on the squad, had a couple of DL trips and ended the season by putting in a couple of starts in late August.  This is the 2nd year in a row that McKenzie had a very ugly ERA number; somehow I doubt there will be a 3rd year lasting through the season with numbers that high.   He does have youth on his side though; he doesn’t turn 22 until December.  Outlook for next season: his age and experience put him in the high-A bullpen, but if he can’t get his ERA into respectable figures he will be released.
  • Bobby Hansen was an enigma this year; he went 5-1 in 10 early season starts with a 4.10 era (most of that sullied by a 6 run first inning in a one-off mid-April start), then suddenly he was pulled from the rotation.  After a number of weeks he was placed on the DL and resided there the rest of the season.  Commenters here pointed out that he was “hurt” and was going to be “out for a while” but I’m not sure official word ever came down.  Outlook for next season: get healthy, then get back into the low-A rotation.  He’s young and he has time to move up with good performance.
  • Taylor Jordan put together the start of a great season in the Hagerstown rotation, going 9-4 with a 2.48 era in 18 appearances (17 starts).  However, he went on the DL in early July and never made it off.  Like Hansen, we struggled with information on the injury.   Outlook for next season: same as Hansen: get healthy and get back into the Low-A rotation.
  • AJ Cole surprisingly joined up the full season low-A team (as opposed to my guess of pitching in the GCL as a 19-yr old) in May and at times showed the upper-end ceiling he has, and the reason he earned such over-slot money as a 4th rounder in 2010.   He exceeded expectations through May and June, then fatigued in July and August, dragging down his season stats.  On the year: 4-7, 4.04 era but most importantly a 108/24 k/bb ratio in just 89 innings as one of the youngest arms in low-A.   Not a bad first pro season.  Outlook for next season: I’d guess he starts again in Low-A, looking for more consistency before moving up.
  • Robbie Ray joined the team the same time as Cole, but frankly out-impressed his more heralded 2010 draftee.  For weeks Ray was pitching as if he were wise beyond his years, and though he also tired in August (especially in his last two starts, which raised his season era from 2.31 to 3.13) his season can only be considered a great success.  Final numbers: 2-3, 3.13 era and 95/38 k/bb in 89 IP.  Outlook for next season: Same as Cole; I think he starts in low-A again with an eye towards a quick move upwards.
  • Ryan Demmin was an undrafted 2010 FA who pitched lights out in short-A but who couldn’t handle the jump to High-A.  Upon his eventual arrival in Hagerstown he entered the rotation and pitched pretty effectively; 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA in 5 starts.   For some reason he was dumped back out of the rotation in late August and ended the year with a few relief appearances.  Across 3 levels he was 8-2 with a 4.25 era with pretty good k/9 numbers.  Outlook for next season: I’m guessing he’s destined for the bullpen; his k/9 as a lefty bodes well for his future.  Potomac middle reliever.
  • Matt Swyndenberg improved in his 3rd pro season, still relatively young for the level but putting up good numbers.  He toiled out of the bullpen in long relief for most of the summer, posting a 2.66 ERA in 50 innings across 20 appearances.  When he got a chance to start, he was up and down, with some good and some bad starts and a 4.67 ERA split.  He’s not a big time K/9 guy and seems destined to try to make it as a reliever moving forward.  Outlook for next season: Potomac middle-relief.
  • Paul Applebee served as the long-man/spot starter all season, picking up 72 relief innings and another 24 2/3 in 5 spot starts.   He repeated low-A in 2011 and improved marginally.  He was a 10th rounder out of college in 2009 and needs to move up.   Outlook for next season: Potomac middle-relief, perhaps a similar long-man/spot starter role.
  • Shane McCatty got one spot start in the middle of the season, a high point for his otherwise unimpressive year.   A 6.63 era in 57 (mostly) relief innings is a distinct decline from his numbers at the same level last year.   Unfortunately Nepotism is at play here; if it weren’t for his last name, he may have already been released.  Outlook for next season: As with McKenzie, the low-A bullpen looks to filled with rising arms from Auburn and the GCL. I’m guessing he moves to the Potomac bullpen with a short leash.

Hagerstown Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season, and talk about other hurlers on the team.

  • Most of Hagerstown’s relievers were, well, bad.  Eusubio, Brown, Weaver, and Holt all sported ERAs at the 5.00 level or above in various amounts of innings.   Bates, Jenkins and Hanks were each demoted mid-season (though Bates made it back to low-A at the end of the season).  Outlook for next season: all of them need to show they can product in low-A before moving on.
  • Neil Holland earned a promotion to Potomac where he was even better than in low-A.  Outlook for next season: (from high-A post): moving on up again, starting in the AA bullpen.
  • Fan Favorite Christopher Manno put up consistently ridiculously good numbers in a late-innings/closer role for Hagerstown before being packaged in the Jonny Gomes deal.  We wish him well.
  • After Manno was traded, Ben Graham took over in the shared-closer role and pitched well enough.  He was 4-4 with a 3.30 era in 46 relief innings.  He’s another non-drafted FA after the 2010 draft that may add value to the organization.   Outlook for next season: middle-relief in Potomac.


3 Responses to 'Hagerstown/Low-A Pitching Staff year in Review; 2011'

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  1. Good review, Todd.
    There have been some scouting reports raving about Cole, saying he’s shown remarkable progress but will understandably take a little longer because his height means there are a lot of moving parts.
    Robbie Ray was sensational until he tired toward the end of the year. I expect him to start at Potomac in April.

    You have to wish the Nats F.O. wasn’t so top secret about their pitcher injuries.

    Mark L

    23 Sep 11 at 8:36 pm

  2. Everything i’ve read about Cole lists him as #2 starter stuff ceiling. If all our pitching depth pans out, we’re going to have one hell of a rotation in a few years. Strasburg and Purke as #1 stuff ceilings, Zimmermann, Cole and Meyer with #2 starter capabilities, and you throw in guys like Lannan, Solis, Ray, Peacock, Milone and Detwiler (all of whom may be anywhere between a #3 starter and bullpen guys). Wow.

    Both Cole and Ray can be excused for tiring; they’re kids used to pitching on 6 days rest and only going 18 games a year in high school. Lets see how they do next year at a higher level and with a full season under their belts.

    I’m sure there’s some strategic value to being misleading about injuries in your proven talent … but minor leaguers? who knows.

    Todd Boss

    24 Sep 11 at 5:15 pm

  3. [...] 5 mostly good starts before being promoted up to high-A.  He eventually settled in Low-A and was reviewed there.  Outlook for next season: (from high-A post): Potomac middle [...]

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