Nationals Arm Race

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

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


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’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 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.


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

9 Responses to 'Auburn/Short-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Auburn/Short-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2013'.

  1. Nice post to round out the set; it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared lol

    One thing I hadn’t focused on until reading this was the BABIP factor; it seems that a lot of the pitchers in the writeup had a terrible BABIP resulting in FIPs below their ERAs. When that happens to several pitchers on a staff I have to wonder what was going on. Was that due to bad luck? Bad fields? Bad fielders?

    John C.

    20 Dec 13 at 10:04 am

  2. Most stat guys will tell you that BABIPs outside the .290-.300 range are entirely related to bad luck. But I think a couple other factors may be in play. Bad fields that lead to balls that should have been caught and turned into outs but which instead are given hits by sympathetic scorers will inflate BABIPs. An UZR challenged defense that allows groundballs/fly balls to turn into hits that otherwise would be outs (think the Detroit and SEattle defenses in 2013 … their starters all had inflated babips this year), same thing.

    But on the flip side … if you routinely get tattooed as a pitcher, your babip may be inflated because, well, you aren’t very good and hitters square up your pitches a whole lot. I mean, looking at Auburn’s advanced stats some of these babips are psychotic: John simms had a .436 babip over 28 innings? That’s crazy. Maybe he’s just not that good.

    Todd Boss

    20 Dec 13 at 11:17 am

  3. Good stuff, Todd, all across the farm. It does seem that the Nats have a substantially deeper crop of pitchers than they do of hitters.

    Last month, you had a post about the potential ceilings of the Nats’ pitching prospects. Have you adjusted some of your expectations after your more thorough review? I’m curious about a couple of the Auburn guys in particular. At that time, you consigned Johansen to an MLB bullpen, while here you have defended him against that fate. There, you had Voth as a AAAA starter, but you seem more glowing about him now. His numbers right out of the box certainly have exceeded those of guys who have gotten a lot more money. He’s not the typical Nats’ pitching prospect, though, as he’s “only” 6’1” and “only” throws in the low 90s.

    That brings to mind a thought for a potential post during the doldrums of winter. Perhaps you could provide some historical perspective to the pluses and minuses of towering hurlers, particularly now that the Nats have added Fister and Blevins to their NBA-quality front line. (Look out Wizards!) I imagine half-court games would be frowned upon in Viera, but it sure would be fun to see.

    I had another thought for follow-up discussion, having just read Kilgore’s piece on potential extensions for Zimmermann and Desmond. Considering the Nats’ supposed depth in arms, is it really worth it for the Nats to commit to an extension for Zimmermann? He likely would cost $15M+ a year for at least six years, and Kilgore floats comps who signed for more, which would be quite a lot for a third starter. Zimmermann will be almost 30 when he would become a free agent, and he has the arm-trouble history, although he has been more durable since the surgery than Strasburg has. However, he would come much “cheaper” than Stras would. I don’t know. It seems like a tough call. If it becomes an either/or between Zimmermann and Desmond, the Nats have many more potential replacements in the pipeline for the former than they do the latter.


    20 Dec 13 at 12:46 pm

  4. Ceiling review. (click here for the Ceiling post). I think yeah perhaps I have modified my opinions a bit on guys. I may have mis-characterized my defense of Johansen a bit by railing against the “lazy scouting narrative” … I still think he may end up in the bullpen but that’s less because he’s 6’8″ and more because he doesn’t seem to have 3 quality pitches right now.

    Voth I do like, and maybe i’d increase my ceiling of him a bit … but I’d need to know more about his repertoire to figure out where he could go. This scouting report lists him at 91-92, touching 94 with a ton of movement on his 2-seamer and great control. But that’s barely 2 pitches … his change, slider listed as poor and no curve mentioned. So where can a guy with impeccable control and “just” a 91-92 mph fastball go? Well, if he has 80 control and great movement on his 2-seamer he could be Greg Maddox. But eh still needs an outpitch and better off-speed stuff. Lets see what he does this year coming up.

    If anything, looking at my ceiling rankings i’d downgrade more than upgrade. I dunno if Meyers is even a 4-A guy and may be just a AAA arm. I don’t even know why i mentioned Rauh; i think he’s closer to a release than he is to being an impact player.

    Todd Boss

    20 Dec 13 at 3:40 pm

  5. Hmm. Analysis of pitchers by height. 🙂 I’m sure there’s someoneout there who’se done it.

    Zimmermann extension; well, first off I think Zimmermann’s better than a #3. But you’re absolutely right on the potential salary logjam coming. Here’s the Cots salary XLS for the Nats: Assume for a minute that the Nats extend both Zimmermann and Desmond. Zimmermann at $15M/year and Desmond at $14M/year (which makes him slightly cheaper than Elvis Andrus). In the year 2016, you’d be looking at this for payroll:
    – Werth at $21M
    – Zimmerman at 14M
    – Zimmermann at 15M
    – Gio at 12.1M
    – Desmond at 14M (76M just to this point)
    – Strasburg in his third arbitration year .. where you have to think he’s getting at least $10M
    – Harper in his 2nd arbitration year … $8M? What if he wins an MVP between now and then like pundits think he’s capable of doing?
    – Ramos in his 3rd arbitration year .. 6-7M?
    – Rendon in his 1st or 2nd arb year .. $4M maybe?

    104M for 9 players. You still have to get an entire bullpen (usually a $20M investment at least; our 2014 bullpen will cost at least $25M and more if Detwiler is in the pen), two more starting pitchers, a starting CF and a bench. Oh and a frigging first baseman … usually the most expensive player of them all because he’s the biggest hitter.


    But yes Ken, you’re exactly right. I think the Nats have to make some tough choices and soon. Does Giolito’s development allow them to flip Zimmermann? Do all these big arms allow them to save a ton of cash in the bullpen? Do they roll the dice and let Strasburg hit free agency … can they do that and maintain credibility in this town?

    I may cut and paste this into a post. 🙂 Great topic.

    Todd Boss

    20 Dec 13 at 3:54 pm

  6. A few thoughts on Voth:

    –It would be interesting to know if he has intentionally held off throwing much in the way of breaking pitches to save his arm for the pros, or if he just hasn’t been able to master one.

    –He’s good enough with the control (and the free swingers at the A-ball levels) to make it to AA without another pitch, so he’s probably got a year to learn one.

    –His MO would seem to be a great attraction to a certain Mr. William Lamar Beane of the East Bay. Just sayin’. He’d probably be glad to send us Corey Brown in return.

    As for Johansen, Baseball Reference has him at “only” 6’6”, so Fister can probably post him up.

    Lots of elements to the Zimmermann extension, which we can save to for a future post. It’s really hard to know how widely the Lerner wallet will open, and when the &*#&!! MASN deal will get done. (Luv ya, Bud.) Suffice it to say, the Nats likely aren’t going to spend at Yankee levels and will have to make some choices.

    The HoF voting brings to mind what the mid-market Braves did, basically invested long term in three pitchers (Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz) and one hitter (Chipper) and filled in the other pieces as they went. That kept them from getting suddenly old, like the Phillies, but it also only resulted in one championship (like the Phillies). A Nats parallel would be Stras, Gio, and Zmnn, plus Harper as the young hitter, but even that core will cost a fortune.


    20 Dec 13 at 8:24 pm

  7. Voth “saving” himself for the pros: i have a hard time believing that. I mean, unless you’re Stephen Strasburg or Carlos Rodon or someone like them (a guy who basically already knows going into the season that he’s going to be a 1-1 pick or close to it) don’t you have to use your whole arsenal to make yourself look better in the eyes of scouts?

    We know that HS pitchers have a hard time using their whole arsenal simply because they can usually get 2/3’s of HS hitters out by just grooving upper 80s/low 90s FBs … the primary reason its hard to scout and draft HS guys (though honestly with the rise of AAU/travel teams and the showcases that limitation is lessening year after year).

    MASN deal; was it any flipping surprise this happened? *sigh* I think honestly the solution will be to just buy Angelos out for hundreds of millions of dollars and the league will have to chip in.

    Braves/Phillies comparison: i’m deathly afraid of doing what Philly did; lock in with 6 contracts and watch them get old. I trust Rizzo to be smarter than that … but when it comes to marquee players like Strasburg and Harper his hands are tied. Both are Boras clients, meaning both are going to get to free agency anyway. But if this team loses either guy you have to think the town would be in an uproar.

    Todd Boss

    21 Dec 13 at 10:02 am

  8. Ullmann came from a NCAA Division III school – Concordia University Texas.

    Great analysis in your article on the pitching staff.

    Tony Baldwin

    24 Dec 13 at 8:53 am

  9. Thanks for the correction tony; i’ve updated the article and put a correction at the bottom. The Nats love guys from Concordia; keep up the good work! 🙂

    Todd Boss

    24 Dec 13 at 9:56 am

Leave a Reply