Nationals Arm Race

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

Monthly Check-in with Minor League Pitching Staffs


Robbie Ray is having a nice bounce-back 2013 so far. Photo:

In 2011, I managed to do “Rotational Review” posts for both the MLB team and the minor league system for the whole summer.   That turned out to be a pretty hefty time commitment, and an endeavor that I couldn’t keep up with.  I managed to do all 33 MLB rotation reviews but gave up on the minor league systems around the all-star break. For the entirety of 2012 I never once published much of an in-season look at any of the minor league teams.  But I want to stay aware of the minor league pitchers; its basically the reason I started this blog.  I wanted to be up on the rising talent, always on the lookout for the next home grown pitching talent.

In 2013, I’ve modified my approach.  With the help of daily doses of Luke Erickson‘s daily looks, I’m taking the time to give a quick “grade” to each Starter’s outing by looking at the stat-line and the peripherals, in order to gauge how guys are looking.  Instead of the previous “good-bad-soso” analysis, I’ve adopted somewhat of a letter grade system, from A+ to F.  It isn’t a hard and fast grading system, but generally speaking we start with a run-of-the-mill quality start being graded a C (lets face it, 3 earned runs in 6 innings for a 4.50 ERA is average) and then go from there.  6 shutout innings gets somewhere between an A+ and an A- depending on # of hits/walks/Ks, while a complete meltdown (e.g. 7 runs in 3 innings) earns an F.  You get the idea.

So, without further ado, here’s the April 2013 look at the starters by team, with grades for outings and some commentary.  We’ll do an expanded view of the MLB rotation in the next post.  The grades are through 4/30’s outings; the stats may be slightly off since I wrote the bulk of this prior to this morning.

AAA Rotation

  • Ohlendorf: A,B,D+,D,C-
  • Young: F,D
  • Maya: C,D,D,F,D-
  • Perry: D-,B+,C-,B
  • Rosenbaum: A-,A,C+,A
  • Roark: A,D,F->demoted to bullpen,A
  • Tatusko: D,A-

Discussion: Syracuse YTD Stats are here for reference

(A quick note explaining the notation; the top 5 pitchers are the current rotation, and guys who have been starters before promotions or demotions, or who have spot starts are noted below the current rotational members.  The rotation is listed in current appearance order).

So far, the AAA rotation (which i like to call the “desperately seeking to find an injury backup starter” group) has been mostly a mess this year.  Former Major league starters Ross Ohlendorf and Chris Young sport ERAs of 5.46 and 9.00 respectively.  Yunesky Maya has been even worse; a 7.45 ERA and a 1.62 whip.  Ryan Perry rebounded after a rough debut outing.  Tanner Roark was holding Young’s rotation spot and was either excellent or awful; even with two grade-A outings he’s sporting an 8.44 ERA in 21 1/3 innings.  Only Danny Rosenbaum has shown himself worthy of a potential call up; after trying out for the Colorado rotation all spring on a Rule-5 invitation, he was returned and has really thrown well in Syracuse.  (side note on Rosenbaum; is he now officially “Daniel?”  Sort of how we went from Tom Milone to Tommy?  I’ll have to update all my tags in the blog system).

In the Bullpen, Erik Davis, Fernando Abad and JC Romero each sport sub 1.00 ERAs in relief; the rest of the bullpen ranges from mediocre to awful.  As noted in a prior post comment, there’s not a lot of relief backup were one of our MLB arms to go down.  Davis is showing why the team protected him last November though.

AA Rotation

  • Broderick: C-,C+,B-,F,B-
  • Treinen: F,D,A,C,B+
  • Demny: A-,D,C,C-,F
  • Clay: D,A,A,C,B+
  • Karns: F,A,A,B+
  • Holder: C

DiscussionHarrisburg YTD Stats are here for reference

As with Syracuse, there’s a lot of up-and-down so far in Harrisburg.  Brian Broderick, who should be in AAA frankly, is barely holding on in AA.  He’s yet to have anywhere close to a dominant outing.  Blake Treinen (throw-in from the Michael Morse trade) started really slow and has clawed his way back to respectability.  Paul Demny has been up and down too.  Caleb Clay (a MLFA signing who spent 6 years in the Boston organization) has been surprisingly sucessful as an Eastern League starter; he was relatively UNsuccessful the last two years playing for Boston’s AA affiliate in the same league as a middle reliever.  We’ll see if he can keep this up.  Lastly Nathan Karns, who in my mind is the “next best Nats starter prospect” to keep an eye on (with apologies to Rosenbaum, AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito) himself rebounded from an awful 2013 debut to put in 3 dominant starts.  He now sits with a 3.80 ERA and 29 ks in 21 innings through 5 starts with nearly a 4/1 K/BB ratio.

Trevor Holder got a spot start and has been otherwise decent.  Ian Krol (the PTBNL in the Morse trade) has been lights out; one run allowed in 13+ innings so far.  Michael Broadway, who we picked up as a MLFA just a few days before the season started, has also been good in short sample sizes.   Aaron Barrett has 4 saves and 15 ks to just 3 walks in his 11 innings this month.  Most of the rest of the Harrisburg bullpen are showing great K/9 rates right now with good numbers thus far.

High-A Rotation

  • Ray: A-,B,B-,A,A
  • Jordan: A,B,B+,B-,B-
  • Cole: D,B,D,D,C+
  • Schwartz: A,A
  • Hill: C+,A-,A+,C,C-
  • Turnbull: D-,D,F->demoted

Discussion: Potomac YTD Stats are here for reference

Potomac is led by a series of guys who are all on good rolls.  Robbie Ray, Taylor Jordan and Taylor Hill each are sporting sub 2.00 ERAs at the end of the month.  Hill’s outings are a combination of excellent and mediocre; his stat line looks better than his Start grade line.  Kylin Turnbull turned out not to be ready for High-A, but his promoted replacement Blake Schwartz certainly looked like he was ready in his first start (6ip, 3hits, zero runs) and followed up that outing with another dominant outing on 4/30.   Only A.J. Cole has really struggled out of this group, a disappointing start so far for the re-captured prospect.   Is High-A going to turn out to be his tripping point?  The California league is tough on hitters, but the Carolina league isn’t; what is going on with Cole?

In the bullpen, Tyler Herron has an amazing 20 Ks in 10 1/3 innings, while Richie Mirowski has given up just 4 hits in his 10+ innings of work for the month.

Low-A Rotation

  • Anderson: B+,B+,A,B,A
  • Turnbull: A
  • Pineyro: D,D,Inc,C-,A+
  • RPena: B,F,D,A-,B+
  • Encarnation: B+,C-,C-
  • Schwartz: B+,A,B-,A+->promoted
  • Mooneyham: B-,A,A->dl
  • Dupra: B,A,B-,D->promoted
  • Rauh: C,C,B-,D-
  • Fischer: A+
  • Hudgins: A,A-

DiscussionHagerstown YTD Stats are here for reference

Hagerstown has a “rotation,” and then they have something akin to a “tandem” pitching plan in place, where the 2nd guy in goes nearly as long as the starter.  Hence the larger number of guys who are given grades on their “starts,” when in reality guys in the lower group don’t have any starts.  If a guy goes 3-4 innings in a game, they generally have a grade here.

Dixon Anderson is leading the way with 5 excellent outings and a 2.25 era/0.87 whip.  Brett Mooneyham had three good starts as well before hitting the D/L.  Schwartz proved too dominant in his 4 outings (21 Ks in 14 innnings) and was promoted; Dupra’s line earned him a promotion as well.  Pedro Encarnation is finally putting it together outside of short-season.  Turnbull looked very dominant in his low-A return as expected.   David Fischer and Wil Hudgins longer outings may have been good, but their other outings have drug down their stat lines.  DSL grad Pineyro is somewhat holding his own in full-season ball, with up and down nights that hopefully will even out.  Lastly Ronald Pena is living up to his “sleeper” potential; the 16th round 2012 draft pick has picked up right where he left off in full-season ball.

10 Responses to 'Monthly Check-in with Minor League Pitching Staffs'

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  1. Cole’s performance so far combined with Morse hitting bombs for Seattle has made it REALLY tough to watch LaRoche’s epic struggles this year. How great would The Beast look as the protection for Harper in the lineup right now?

    From your post, it also looks as though if Haren doesn’t right the ship we have very little to replace him with, unless Rizzo is willing to overcome his hangup about soft tossing lefties and give Rosenbaum his shot.


    1 May 13 at 10:43 am

  2. Its easy to second guess the moves now, absolutely. We didn’t need to move Harper out of center, we could have put Morse at first and let Tyler Moore man left field and just dealt with lesser defense so we could have more pop. But Rizzo has been obsessed with two things for years now; a lead-off hitter and defense. And the Span acquisition and LaRoche re-signing were both about those two items. I’ve said for years that you can “hide” guys in left field to get more offense in the lineup, but that’s not Rizzo’s philosophy. Who am I to judge? He was the 2012 Executive of the Year, not me.

    I’ve heard interesting opinions recently that say that the need for plus defenders is falling more and more each year. Why? Because of the remarkable rise in strikeouts over the past decade. Every additional strikeout is one less ball in play that depends on plus-fielders to gain the advantage. You can see that some teams still strive for plus-defenders all over the field (Washington, Tampa, Arizona come to mind), while other teams willingly play lesser defenders to get more offense (Seattle, Detroit, Los Angeles Angels come to mind). Who is to say which approach is right? I mean, the SF Giants have won two out of the last three World Series with below average offenses and relatively poor defenses as well, mostly on the strength of pitching and role players. The Tigers made last year’s WS with Miguel Cabrera bumbling around third base. Point is, I think you can go overboard with overrating Defense.

    I think Haren is at least two months away from even slightly being considered for release. He’s improving start by start, he was always expected to be basically our 5th starter (he’s only in the #4 slot as a nod to his veteran status). And he’s got a lot of money tied up in him. I don’t think he’s in any jeopardy right now of losing his spot to Rosenbaum. Now for me the interesting development is clearly that Rosenbaum may now be the #1 candidate to come up and get spot-starts/injury replacement starts. Its supposed to be either Young or Ohlendorf, but those two guys look awful right now.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 13 at 11:02 am

  3. Bdrube, Morse exploded for 12 games and since hurting his pinky has dropped off considerably. While yes his overall numbers look much better than LaRoche he is only hitting .208 with a 27% K rate in his last 12 games. That would put him on par with about the rest of the Nats minus Span/Harper.

    It looks to me that the Nats may have gotten a good one in Krol when they picked him up as the PTBNL in the Morse deal. So far he has been excellent.

    The lower minor pitchers are starting to look decent to with Ray, Schwartz, Hill, Anderson et al. It is nice to see Ray turn it around so far this year. Cole seems to have struggles the 2nd time through a line up so maybe his future is as a power bullpen arm. He is also still pretty young so I’m sure they will give him every oppurtunity before making that move.

    If the Nats need a starter at some point it could very well be Karns over Rosenbaum. Karns fits Rizzo’s MO and is already on the 40 man roster. With the AAA pitching struggles it would not shock me if Karns is bumped up to AAA after a few more starts at AA and one of the older starters is cut.

    I know a lot of people like to compare Rosenbaum to Milone but Milone actually racked up a good number of Ks on the farm. Rosenbaum does not and I can’t see him doing any better than Zach Duke would. They seem to be pretty similar pitchers.


    1 May 13 at 11:07 am

  4. Good point on Karns based on his 40-man roster status being taken over Rosenbaum as a spot-starter. I’m very eager to see how Karns and his plus-plus arm do this year.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 13 at 11:14 am

  5. Todd – I like the way that you laid this out; it is more helpful to see it this way than a raw accumulation of stats, at least for someone who isn’t following the minors on a regular basis. Nice to see Karns put together a few quality starts. I wonder when Solis will start pitching?

    I value defense highly. It may just be that watching poor defense bothers me more than a struggling offense, I don’t know. And Span gets the best reads of any CF that I have spent any decent amount of time watching, so I like the trade. His hitting is just ok, but I value the D. And while Morse has 8 HRs, his OBP is still below .300, so it isn’t like he is tearing things up out west. ALR just looks so flipping bad right now that it skews everything. Barring injury, I have to believe that he’ll regress to a more acceptable offensive level, since it has been his pattern (except for 2012).

    What we are missing offensively is a healthy Zimmerman. That would make a huge difference.


    1 May 13 at 11:16 am

  6. As for which SP gets called up first, I’d lay odds that it is Young, if he is still in the organization. I think Rizzo made him that promise.


    1 May 13 at 11:18 am

  7. Same here. I am also curious to see how Schwartz progresses. Being an NAIA guy it will be interesting to see how he does against higher levels of competition. Thus far in his breif career he has put up a 5.3/1 K/BB rate and has exhibited very good control.

    I also just noticed that Krol is a lefty. That escaped me. If he keeps it up he could work his way into the bullpen discussion if need be as well.

    Henry Rodriguez can’t have many lives left and I would have to assume JC Romero has to have some sort of opt out date on his minor league deal. The team has had a couple of spots already where it would have been nice to have a loogy out in the pen.


    1 May 13 at 11:20 am

  8. I like these start-by-start grades … but as it turns out you also need the stats side by side to get the full picture. Take for example Hill; I’ve got his 5 starts graded Hill: C+,A-,A+,C,C-. That doesn’t look that impressive. However his two excellent starts were so dominant they have made his overall stats look pretty good (2.43 ERA, 1.01 whip in 29 innings). I’d like to see more Ks out of him (18 in 29 innings) but his K/bb rate is excellent (18/3 or 6/1).

    Zimmerman and LaRoche hitting just a league average 100 OPS+ (instead of 87 and 31), along with getting just something out of Espinosa (ops+ figure of 49 right now) are your downspots. That’s #4, #5 and a lot of missed opportunities.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 13 at 11:56 am

  9. For now yes; but if Young continues to be this bad and a need arises … you have to wonder what Rizzo will do.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 13 at 11:56 am

  10. I’m calling back to some 2012 minor league review posts, especially the John Sickels cut-n-paste job. Sickels wrote that Schwartz “was Considered a sleeper by some Midwestern scouts due to his command.” He’s looked great and as you pointed out his K/BB is excellent. Looking good for a 17th round NAIA college senior.

    Todd Boss

    1 May 13 at 12:00 pm

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