After skipping the minor league pitching staff reviews in 2014 (that silly thing called work interfered), I’m back for 2015. I’ll be reviewing the six minor league levels and the major league levels going from high to low.
For some AA review historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Nathan Karns), here’s 2012’s version (featuring Danny Rosenbaum) and 2011’s version (featuring Brad Peacock) of this post specifically for Harrisburg/AA. In the missing 2014 post I likely would have “featured” either A.J. Cole or Matt Grace.
All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Harrisburg 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Harrisburg 2015 Stats page. Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker. And here’s the Baseball America Minor League Free Agent (MLFA) tracker. And here’s a list of the official MLB MLFA declarations for 2015, though these are more useful for the AAA squad frankly.
Harrisburg Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)
- Opening Day Rotation: Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg
- End-of-Season Rotation: Bates, Voth, Rauh, Simms, Giolito
- End of Season spot starts/swingman: Purke*
- End of Season bullpen: Mendez, EDavis, Suero, Lee*, de los Santos, Demny
- 9/1 promotions: Bacus, Roark
- Mid-Season promotions: Swynenberg, Espino, Ross, Demny, Simmons, Solis*, Bleier*, Runion, Harper*
- up-and-back: de los Santos
- down-and-back: Spann*
- demotions: Self, Dupra, Mapes, Amlung
- dl/TIL: Benincasa, Alderson
- cut/released/FAs/traded: Sisk, Ambriz, Pivetta (traded)
Harrisburg starters. The rotation started the season with Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg. Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters.
- Austin Voth not only was the opening day starter, he led the team in IP and in starts. He posted a 6-7 record with a 2.92 ERA, 1.11 whip, 3.07 fip and had a 148/40 K/BB ratio in 157.1 innings. Nobody else had more than 15 starts on the year for the Senators, meaning Voth was the unquestioned leader of this pitching staff all year. He proved that his precipitous rise in 2014 was no fluke by posting solid numbers. Thanks to a glut of starters above him, I can’t quite see him breaking into the MLB rotation (ala Jordan Zimmermann, who jumped straight from a solid AA season to the majors), but I can see him jumping ahead of some of the AAA starter-in-waiting guys (Cole, Jordan, Hill) if/when the opportunity arises to provide injury cover in the majors. Outlook for Next season: AAA rotation and a MLB debut at some point in 20116.
- Joe Ross threw 9 solid starts in AA before getting called up and solidifying his place in the 2016 MLB rotation; see the MLB write-up for more. Outlook for Next season: Nats #4 starter.
- Paolo Espino threw seven decent starts in AA before getting plucked to move up, spending the rest of the season in AAA. See AAA write-up for more. Outlook for Next season: AAA rotation.
- Tim Alderson had just 5 starts as a Feb 2015 MLFA signing before getting hurt and spending essentially the rest of the season on the D/L. He has already elected free agency. Outlook for Next season: in another organization.
- Matt Swynenberg made just two AA starts, got bumped to AAA to provide cover and then apparently elected to retire, spending the rest of the season on Syracuse’s restricted list. See AAA write-up for more (though there’s not much more to tell). Outlook for Next season: retired
- Colin Bates returned to Harrisburg for his second stint, converting more to a long-man/spot starter in 2015 than the pure reliever he was in 2014. Results are mixed: he was 6-6 with a 4.28 ERA in 111.1 innings across 28 games/15 starts. 1.37 whip, 4.25 fip. 62/29 K/BB in those 111 innings. A pretty low K/9 ratio for today’s power-heavy pitching game lends me to believe that Bates has reached his peak; I could see him pushed to the AAA bullpen or staying in AA bullpen again as a swingman based on the numbers, but either way he stands to play out 2016 as an org guy before hitting MLFA. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
- Richard Bleier gave AA 15 effective starts before getting pushed to the AAA rotation; See the AAA write-up for more. Outlook for next season: in AAA for another organization
- Dakota Bacus started in Potomac but got bumped quickly to Harrisburg, where he played most of the season (he was a 9/1 call-up to AAA to provide a few days of bullpen cover). For Harrisburg he was 6-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 22 appearances and 11 starts. 1.29 whip in AA, 4.11 fip and a 53/29 K/BB in 89.2 AA innings. Not bad, not great. Bacus was the return for Kurt Suzuki trade in late 2013 and has steadily climbed the ladder; I can see him in the AAA bullpen next year. He’s still just 24 and we have a couple more years of control, so he could still have an impact. He’s survived one Rule-5 draft already; his goal in 2016 should be to put himself in a position to earn a 40-man spot. Outlook for Next season: AAA bullpen.
- Matthew Spann bounced freely between High-A and AA this year, throwing slightly more innings in High-A but getting 10 starts in AA. In those 10 AA starts, he was 2-2 with a 4.66 ERA, 1.61 whip, 3.70 fip and had a 35/25 K/BB ratio in 56 innings. He ended the year where he began it; the High-A rotation. Spann was the return for David DeJesus and already has 6 minor league seasons in him, so he may have found his peak level. I could see him back in the mix for the AA rotation for one more season before hitting MLFA/getting released. The fact that he’s a lefty though gives him a bit more of a stay of execution; his lefty vs lefty numbers are a bit better than against righies, so perhaps he could convert to relief if need be. But he’s stuck as a starter for an awful long time; most guys wouldn’t last 6 seasons as a starter in the low-minors unless there was something there. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- Lucas Giolito had 8 starts for Harrisburg after a mid-season promotion from High-A. He was 4-2 with a 3.80 ERA in those 8 starts, with 1.37 whip, 3.18 fip and 45/17 K/BB in 47.1 AA innings. Gioloto took a bit of time to adjust to AA; 10 of the 20 earned runs he gave up (and 6 of his 11 walsk) in his 8 AA starts were in his first two appearances. It took him weeks to get a home start, and he only made two home starts during his AA season. Eventually he adjusted; throwing 7 innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts in his home debut for Harrisburg. Giolito got hit; he certainly wasn’t as dominant in AA as he was in High-A, but he’s also just turned 21 and there’s no mistaking the potential in his arm. I think the team starts him in AA again, hoping for a 5-6 week earned promotion to AAA and perhaps a mid-to-late season call-up potential for 2016. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation to start.
- John Simms earned his promotion from High-A to AA the same day as Giolito and also got 8 AA starts. His results were mixed: 2-3 with a 4.40 ERA, 1.42 whip, 3.82 fip and 34/15 K/BB in 45 AA innings. Simms showed more K/9 in AA than he did in High-A oddly, but wasn’t appreciably more hittable. This was his second stint in AA and improved slightly from his 2014 numbers (where he had 11 starts with a 5.03 ERA). Nonetheless, good progress for the 2013 11th rounder. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- Brian Rauh had an interesting tour of the Nats minor league affiliates in 2015, starting the season in Potomac, getting quickly promoted to Harrisburg, struggling, getting hurt, going to the D/L, doing a rehab assignment in Viera, then working his way back up the chain from Low- to High-A and ending the year back in the Harrisburg rotation. He proved twice he was too good for High-A, and proved twice why he may not be ready for AA. Total AA stats on the year: 8 starts, 4.83 ERA, 1.41 whip, 4.95 fip and 29/10 K/BB in 41 AA innings. 2016 is sink or swim time for Rauh in AA; he can’t go back to Potomac for the fourth straight year. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation or bust.
- Matthew Purke had a whirlwind off-season, getting DFA’d off the 40-man roster but then quickly re-signed to a MLFA contract for the 2015. season to give it one last go for the former big-money bonus 2011 3rd rounder. He rose to AA where he pitched as a swing-man, getting 10 games and 5 starts, and did not impress. 6.29 ERA, 1.64 whip, 3.76 fip. 19/7 K/BB in 24 AA innings. His lower minors numbers were much better … but at this point in his age 25 season, he needs to be competing well at the higher levels. I think its clear that he’s not going to recover from his shoulder issues and it seems unlikely he’ll rise much above where he already has. He has already declared as a MLFA and has signed with the White Sox as a MLFA for 2016. Thus ends a long, drawn-out saga for a guy who I thought was a huge draft day coup for us. Outlook for Next season: AA in the White Sox organization.
- Others who had a few starts for AA Harrisburg:
- Nick Pivetta had 3 AA starts after getting promoted from Potomac before getting flipped for Jonathan Papelbon: see High-A write-up for more.
- James Simmons threw a couple of spot starts in Harrisonburg, inbetween his regular reliever duties. See reliever section for more.
- Solis, Fister, Strasburg, Janssen and Roark each had one “start” during rehab assignments in Harrisburg; see MLB write-up for each.
Harrisburg Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps. We’ll organize relievers by going by IP from most to least. Anyone with less than 10 IP will get cursory analysis at the end.
- Gilberto Mendez keeps moving on up the system, posting a 3.84 ERA in a full season (61 innings) as a middle reliever in AA. 1.38 whip, 3.51 fip and 52/17 K/BB in those 61 innings. Mendez’ numbers inflated somewhat dramatically from his last two years, his whip jumping from 0.94 to 1.38 with the jump to AA. His K/9 stayed impressive though. His BAA and BABIP look inflated so perhaps he had some bad luck going. He’s still young (turned 23 after the season), and he could be a middle relief option in the majors relatively soon. One thing I like about him is the way he keeps the ball on the ground: just one homer allowed in those 61 innings. I think the team starts him in AA bullpen again looking for a 5 week promotion to AAA where he can hone his craft against more advanced/mature hitters. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in AAA, but right now the team has so many MLB-experienced arms that won’t make the 25-man roster that there might not be enough room in Syracuse for Mendez. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen to start.
- Abel de los Santos was a surprise callup in mid July, getting a premature add to the 40-man and a call-up so that he could throw to a handful of batters, then return back to AA. Perhaps not the best use of an option. Nonetheless, he was a 22yr old in AA holding his own (much like Mendez; in fact their birthday is just days apart in November). For the year in AA; 3.43 ERA in 57.2 innings, 1.13 ERA, 3.39 fip and 55/12 K/BB in those 57 innings as an 8th/9th inning guy (he had 8 saves in 11 opportunities). His numbers look similar to Mendez’s at first, but I think the team starts him in AAA since he’s on the 40-man, in order to get him some more experience against veteran hitters. Side note: that trade of Ross Detwiler looking pretty good now eh? de los Santos and new top10 prospect Chris Bostick for the OBE’d Detwiler, who didn’t last half the year before getting flat out released by Texas. Outlook for Next season: AAA bullpen.
- Paul Demny started the year in AAA, got demoted after 10 innings and spent the rest of the season in Harrisonburg. He had fantastic numbers in AA this year; 1.88 ERA, 60 Ks in 48 innings splitting time as the closer with de los Santos. But its also his EIGHTH minor league season in the system. He’s already declared as a MLFA and you have to think he’s looking elsewhere at this point, given the fact that half the RH relievers between AA and AAA got callups last year and he didn’t. Outlook for Next season: with another organization.
- Bryan Harper, forever to be known as Bryce’s older brother, had a pretty darn good season, posting a 3.02 ERA in 45 innings with decent peripherals (33/15 K/BB, 1.18 whip, held lefties to a .185 BAA). He earned a late-season call-up to AAA as well. He survived the Rule-5 draft but sits behind several other lefty relievers at this point, two of which are already slated for AAA (Grace and Solis). I could see him losing out on a numbers game and repeating AA in 2016, waiting for injuries to open up the log jam of lefty relievers in the organization. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
- James Simmons signed out of Indy ball and stuck with the Nats farm system for parts of two seasons, serving as a rubber-armed utility guy between AA and AAA both this year and last. Oddly, he was hurling for AA, got called up to AAA to make one spot start in July … and then was released soon after. His numbers weren’t great in 2014 but were improved in 2015, but as a 29-yr old now out of affiliated ball, it may be the end of the road for him. Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
- Erik Davis: returned from Tommy John surgery in 2014, got shelled in AAA and then was demoted to Harrisburg for the duration of the season. He was effective in AA (2.65 ERA in 34 ip) but you have to ask yourself; where does the team go with him? He’s now 29, still on the 40-man roster and doesn’t look like he made a full recovery in his first year back. Given that he was a marginal right-handed middle reliever to begin with, I wonder if he’s ever going to have an impact with this team. He still has a MLB option left (which he’ll use in 2016), but I have him as either option #1 or #2 to DFA if the team suddenly needs 40-man roster space. If he survives on the roster to 4/1/16, I can see him tried in AAA bullpen again. Outlook for Next season: AAA bullpen/release candidate. 1/6/16 update: Davis was DFA’d on the 40-man to make room for Daniel Murphy: we’ll update in this space when his roster status is finalized.
- Nick Lee earned a mid-season promotion after closing effectively for Potomac and showed some organizational intrigue while in AA. While at Harrisburg he posted a 3.75 ERA with 29/19 K/BB in 24 innings. Lots of walks, but also lots of Ks especially for a lefty. On a whole, the team liked enough of what they saw to not only send him to the AFL but to also protect him on their 40-man roster. He seemingly slots in as a lefty specialist in 2016 but sits behind Solis and Grace. I think he starts in AA with an idea of moving up to AAA. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen to start.
- Hector Ambriz was signed in May, then released in June after getting hammered in 10 outings across four weeks. He remains unsigned. Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
- Other Relievers who got innings for AA/Harrisburg in 2015:
- Wander Suero: Pitched the first half of the season in High-A: see High-A writeup for more.
- Sam Runion: split time between AA and AAA; see AAA write-up for more.
- Derek Self started in AA but was demoted to High-A, where he spent most of the year. See High-A writeup for more.
- Sammy Solis: 13.1 IP in AA in-between assignments to AAA and MLB. See MLB write-up for more.
- Brian Dupra was up and down between Potomac and Harrisburg; See High-A writeup for more.
- Robert Benincasa threw four innings in April and spent the rest of the season on the D/L. A lost season. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen again.
- David Carpenter appeared briefly for Harrisburg on a rehab stint; see MLB write-up for more.
20 guys got starts for Harrisburg in 2015, though the rotation as it were really was dominated by one crew for the first half, one crew in the second half. A lot of the guys who featured for Harrisburg in 2015 seem like good bets to return for at least the start of 2016 thanks to the log-jam above them. At some point though we’ll start to see movement through the system; a good number of these guys in AA need to move up or move on.