This is the 4th in the 2015 Pitching staff review series, here’s a review of Potomac/High-A’s pitching staff for 2015. Other parts of the 2015 series:
For some historical perspective, here’s 2013’s version (featuring Taylor Jordan), here’s 2012’s version (Nathan Karns the feature pitcher) and 2011’s version (Danny Rosenbaum the feature pitcher) of this post specifically for Potomac/High-A. Had we done this in 2014, we would likely have “featured” Gilberto Mendez for his good work closing.
Note; while its relatively easy to do reviews for the upper levels of the system, once we get lower we’re usually talking about a lot of short sample sizes. And i’m sure there’s people reading this who saw every pitcher on this post throw in 2015; by all means feel free to comment if you believe i’ve mis-characterized someone here. Of all the write-ups I expect readers here to have better opinions of Potomac players by virtue of actually seeing them week in/week out, so definitely pipe up.
All stats are courtesy of either milb.com’s Potomac 2015 Stats page or via Fangraph’s Potomac 2015 page. Also useful here are the Big Board and the Nats Draft Tracker since so many of these lower-minors guys are recent draftees. 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 and AA squads frankly.
Potomac Pitching Staff movement throughout the year (* == lefty)
- Opening Day rotation: Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*
- End of Season Rotation: Mapes, Dickson, AWilliams, Spann*, Howell
- End of Season spot starts/swingman: Dupra, Thomas*, Valdez
- End of Season bullpen: Self, Walsh*, Johansen, Orlan*, MRodriguez
- Mid-Season promotions: Dupra, Bacus, Suero, Pivetta, Mapes, Giolito, Purke*, Simms, Rauh, Roark
- up-and-back: Mapes, Spann*, Dupra
- down-and-back: Thomas*, Rauh
- demotions: KPerez, Napoli*, Amlung, Orlan*
- D/L: RPena, Turnbull*, Sylvestre*, Lopez
- cut/released/FAs: Mirowski, Henke, Encarnacion, Schwartz (retired), CDavis
Potomac starters. The rotation started the season with Pivetta, Rauh, Schwartz, Suero, Spann*. 19 guys got starts in 2015. Here’s an overview of the starters used, starting with the original five starters, going all the way to the rehab spot starts.
- Nick Pivetta was your opening day starter, and by the end of the season he had gotten promoted and traded. He earned his promotion, going 7-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 15 starts for Potomac. He was not as successful upon his promotion to AA, but that was still enough to catch the eye of Philadelphia and be the bounty for them ridding themselves of Jonathan Papelbon‘s ego and contract. If he was still with the team, he would have been the ‘featured” player above and not Mapes for his dominant season in High-A. Outlook for Next Season: Philadelphia’s AA team in Reading, where he gets to go against Harrisburg and all his old teammates a few times a year.
- Brian Rauh threw 7 excellent High-A starts before getting promoted to AA, where he spent most of the year. See AA write-up for more. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation or bust.
- Blake Schwartz had three High-A starts, struggled, and retired. After a fantastic 2013 season in Potomac, he just never could make the jump to AA and (not that I’ve ever talked to him or anything) perhaps got discouraged after not really progressing further up the chain. Outlook for Next season: retired, out of baseball
- Wander Suero pitched pretty effectively for Potomac in the first half in a swingman role, getting 16 appearances and 5 starts and posting a 2.41 ERA, 1.20 whip, and a 3.27 FIP. Not much in the way of swing and miss though; 39/18 K/BB in 56 innings. After moving up, he struggled in AA but inched up his K/9 rate while focusing more on middle relief. No reason to think he can’t compete in AA in 2016, and is still relatively young (he turned 24 just after the season ended so he’ll still be 24 all next year). Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen, perhaps High-A bullpen again if he gets squeezed in a numbers game.
- Matthew Spann bounced between High-A and AA all year, posting mid 4 ERAs in both places. See AA write-up for more. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- Reynaldo Lopez led the team in IP and starts for 2015, going 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 99 IP across 19 starts. His stats: 4.09 ERA, 1.22 whip, 2.95 FIP and 94/28 K/BB in those 99 innings, all as a 21-yr old. It isn’t hard to see why Lopez is highly ranked on “top 10” lists for Nats prospects; he more than held his own in High-A as one of the younger hurlers in the league. The team held him back in XST for a few weeks to keep innings off his arm. While most scouting reports think he’ll eventually end up in the bullpen (no third pitch, iffy mechanics, big arm), he’s obviously worth giving more chances to stick as a high-velocity starter (in the same vein as Yordano Ventura for example). Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- John Simms threw an excellent half season for Potomac before getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- Lucas Giolito threw an dominant half season for Potomac (86 ks in 69 innings) after being kept in XST for the first 5 weeks of the season (so much for those pre-2015 interviews where he proclaimed that he had no innings limits, eh?) before also getting bumped up mid-season; see AA writeup for more. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- Austen Williams blitzed the Sally league and forced a promotion to Potomac mid-season, where he continued pitching well. In High-A he was 4-6 with a 2.59 ERA, 1.09 whip, 3.22 fip and 41/17 K/BB over 63 high-A innings. The 2014 draftee is looking like a nice little find. There does seem to be a bit of fortuitousness in his numbers (.253 BABIP and a delta between his ERA and FIP), so I could see the log-jam in the AA projected rotation keeping Williams back in Potomac for the first half of the 2016 season. Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation to start with an eye on quick promotion.
- Philips Valdez dominated the Sally league and earned a promotion after two months. In Potomac he bounced in and out of the rotation, getting 10 starts across 22 appearances and posting a 3.77 ERA in High-A. Other numbers: 1.44 whip, 3.26 fip, 48/25 K/BB in 59 High-A innings. Valdez has been around for a while; this was his *seventh* season in the Nats organization. He just turned 24. But he has relatively few innings on his arm; just 260 IP across those seven seasons (he missed the entirety of 2012). He’s looking like he could be a low-profile decent starter going forward, though he may run out of time in the system before the team is faced with a tougher decision on how to keep him. For now, I think he repeats High-A to start, is tried out as a full time starter, and we’ll see if he can push forward to AA in 2016. Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation
- Tyler Mapes so far is a pretty good 2014 draft success story; he was a 30th round *senior sign* out of Tulane who was basically unhittable in Short-A last year, threw 6 clean innings in Low-A and was bumped up to High-A (the first 2014 draftee to get promoted that high) after just a couple of weeks. Once in Potomac, he continued to pitch well in a swing-man role; 30 appearances, 8 starts, a 2.38 ERA across 90 innings, 1.22 whip, 2.78 FIP and 75/17 K/BB over 96 innings in High-A. Not too shabby. If it were me, I’d push him right to AA and stick him in the rotation, but as noted before I’m projecting an awful lot of starters to be in that Harrisburg rotation right now. I’m curious to see how things shake out for someone like Mapes; he didn’t last to the 30th round as a favor to the Nats; is there something limiting in his capabilities that will cause him to suddenly top out like a lot of late-round senior signs? We’ll see. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- Ian Dickson was hurt the first half of the season and finished 2015 the exact same place he finished 2014: in the Potomac rotation with decent to effective numbers. 2015 totals for Dickson: 3-3, 3.60 ERA in 12 appearances/8 starts. We see a problem though: 31 ks and 39 (?!) walks in 40 innings in Potomac this year. Wow; that’s a walk an inning. He never saw this kind of walk rate before, so hopefully its just a remnant of whatever injury kept him out the first half of the year. Nonetheless, he seems like he’ll be back in Potomac a third year until he can solve his walk rate issues. Outlook for Next season: High-A rotation.
- Dakota Bacus began the season in Potomac, had 5 starts and 8 appearances and got bumped quickly to Harrisburg, where he played most of the season. See AA write-up for more.
- Jeff Howell is a pretty interesting player. He’s a career minor league backup catcher, having toiled in the lower minor leagues since 2005. He signed on with Washington in 2012 and hung around as a backup between the levels for a couple of years. Then suddenly, at the age of 32, he decided to try his hand on the mound. Perhaps he was inspired by other Catchers-turned-Hurlers like Jason Motte. He (presumably) hung out in XST for most of the season learning how to pitch, then threw a couple of games in the Rookie league, then for Hagerstown, then finally for Potomac at season’s end. He struggled once he got to Potomac, giving up 9 runs in 13 innings but more importantly walking 17 guys while he was there. He’s now a MLFA and one may think that he’d re-up with Washington since we’re the ones who gave him a shot. We’ll see how the off-season goes. He may choose to pitch elsewhere where he can be guaranteed a rotation spot (a tough one in our system, since we’re completely overloaded with arms from pitching-heavy drafts over the past few years). Outlook for Next season: continuing his conversion to pitcher in another organization.
- Others who got starts in Potomac for 2015:
- Matt Purke got three brief starts in Potomac before settling in Harrisburg for the year; see AA write-up for more.
- Rehab starts for Potomac in 2015: Barrett, Roark, Janssen and Carpenter (though technically Roark’s were not rehab but “stretching out” starts).
Potomac 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.
- Justin Thomas was the bullpen leader in IP for Potomac in 2015, throwing 57 innings across 28 games, posting a 3.43 ERA, 1.21 whip, a 2.84 FIP and getting 50/18 K/BB in those 57 innings. He’s a lefty but was used more as a long-man, not being limited to just short stints. He’s looking great considering his limited draft pedigree (senior sign out of a small college in the 21st round) and I see no reason not to keep bumping him up the chain. Outlook for Next season: AA rotation.
- Jake Johanssen was 1-7 with a 5.44 ERA, 1.81 whip, 4.69 fip with 48/27 K/BB in 48 relief innings for Potomac. Johanssen was our top draft pick in 2013, has already been “demoted” from a starter to the pen, and now seemingly can’t perform in a relief role either. Where do you go from here with him? You and I know that his large bonus is a “sunk cost” and shouldn’t dictate his usage, but teams don’t seem to see it that way. Just look at how long the Nats kept Brett Mooneyham around after it became clear he wasn’t capable of performing, even at lower levels of the minors? I see Johanssen repeating High-A and trying to get his career back on track. Outlook for Next season: High-A bullpen.
- Derek Self seems to be taking a step back in his career; after posting a 1.69 ERA through half a season in Potomac last year, he more than earned a promotion up to AA where he more than held his own. However after just 14 innings in AA this year, he got dumped back to Potomac, thus repeating High-A for the third straight year. He was solid again; a 4/1 K/BB ratio in middle relief, but where is his Nats career going at this point? Obviously he needs to be in the AA bullpen next year, but you could have also said that last year and it didn’t work out. There’s going to be a lot of AA bullpen competition; if he gets squeezed out does he get cut in 2016? we’ll see. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release Candidate.
- Brian Dupra is in a similar boat as Derek Self; he’s now 27 and spent most of his third successive year in Potomac. He was promoted mid-season to AA but didn’t last long after getting hit hard. Final Potomac stats for 2015: 2.79 ERA in 42 mostly later bullpen innings. I think he’s going to be in a similar situation as Self this coming spring; if he cannot cut it at AA (and there’s plenty of competition for that bullpen), he may get cut loose entirely. Not that it should matter, but it should be noted that Dupra was a senior sign for limited bonus money out of Notre Dame in 2011, so it could be a “make the team or get cut” situation. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen competition/Release candidate.
- Cody Davis was struggling early in the season, with a decent ERA but ugly peripherals (4.55 fip, 10/15 K/BB in 21 ip) and was released towards the end of June as upwards player movement started to need bullpen spots. The undrafted MLFA signing from 2011 played parts of 5 seasons for the system but seemed to fall apart this year as he repeated High-A. It does not look like he picked up anywhere and may be done. Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
- Manny Rodriguez only threw 21 innings between two different D/L stints this year, and then was released soon after the end of the season. It seems that the team believed he never recovered from the injury that cost him two full seasons early in his minor league career. Outlook for Next season: out of baseball.
- Jake Walsh threw 17 scoreless innings as a late-inning/closer in Low-A before getting bumped up to High-A in July. From there out he posted a 3.66 ERA in 19.2 innings across 9 appearances with a 19/10 K/BB ratio. There’s something odd going on with Walsh; why was he even in Low-A to start 2015? He posted a sub-2.00 ERA across low- and high-A LAST YEAR, yet didn’t start in Potomac nor get considered for the AA rotation despite being a senior sign in 2013. He now holds a CAREER 1.65 ERA and seems to me to more than have earned a shot at a look at a higher level. Outlook for Next season: AA bullpen.
- Kevin Perez spent the 2nd half of the year in Hagerstown after struggling early on in Potomac: see Low-A write-up for more.
- Robert Orlan spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted a 2.20 ERA in Potomac in 16.1 August innings: see Low-A write-up for more.
- Justin Amlung, similarly to Orlan above, spent most of the season in Hagerstown but posted an excellent 1.84 ERA in Potomac in 14.2 July and August innings: see Low-A write-up for more.
- Other Relievers of note who had less than 10 IP for Potomac this year:
- David Napoli had 8 IP for Potomac before getting demoted to Hagerstown: see Low-A write-up for more.
- Matt Purke threw 7 IP for Potomac during his tour of the Nats farm system in 2015: see AA write-up for more.
- Erik Davis threw 3 re-hab IP in 2015; see AA write-up for more.
- Tanner Roark threw one 4Ip start during his “stretch out” minor league stint; see MLB write-up for more.
- Brenden Webb, normally an Outfielder, threw a 3Ip mop-up game (really? they couldn’t find ONE reliever out of the 32 guys who threw innings for Potomac this year?)
- MLBers Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen and David Carpenter each had some re-hab innings; see MLB write-up for more.
- A few guys spent the entire year on the D/L: Ronald Pena, Kylin Turnbull, Hector Sylvestre: all are looking at repeating Potomac next year if/when healthy.
Potomac certainly saw a lot of churn in its pitching staff; 32 total pitchers used (19 different starters including rehab starts by relievers). Their leading IP was Lopez, who didn’t even hit 100 IP on the year. There were at least 6-7 arms who earned their promotions to AA mid-season, a great sign for the rising tide of pitching talent in the system. Lots of guys with ERAs that start with a “2” in the season-ending stats. It didn’t help Potomac in the standings; they finished both halves several games under .500 and out of the playoffs. This will create quite a competition for the AA staff next year: my projections at this point show at least 6-7 rotation candidates, 8-9 bullpen candidates and another 3-4 guys who are right at that age where they may be summarily cut if they don’t make the AA team in 2016. Harsh, but good for the Nats, who could use all the bullpen help they can get.