Nationals Arm Race

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

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2013 Projected Pitching Staffs and Rotations; entire Nats system

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After finishing the evaluation of all 6 minor league pitching staffs, plus finally finishing (and posting yesterday) the MLB season review,  here’s an entirely too-early projection of what the staffs and rotations may look like in 2013.  This post assumes for the time being that all major and minor league FAs will opt out and we’ll be looking to fill spots.  In these cases I’ll mark FAs to be as needed, though we very well may acquire these players in trade.

Note: some of these projections are slightly different from the original reviews posted in the per-level links, to account for moves, performances and roster moves that have already happened or seem set to happen this off-season.  I’ve also made some slight adjustments in order to make the rotations and bullpens work at each level.

(notations: FA = free agent, MLFA == Minor League Free Agent)

Staff Review links: MLB is here, AAA is here, AA is here, High-A is here, Low-A is here, Short-A is here, GCL is here.

  • MLB Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Detwiler, FA or other acquisition
  • MLB Bullpen: Clippard, Storen, Mattheus, Stammen, Garcia, a FA left-hander (possibly Burnett), a FA long-man (possibly Gorzelanny).
  • MLB notables Out of Organization: Jackson, Burnett, Gonzalez, Lannan, Wang

MLB Narrative: 4/5ths of the rotation are no-brainers.  The 5th starter is the question mark for 2013.  Do we re-sign Jackson and pay him more as a 5th starter than our big 3 guys?  It doesn’t seem so after the team declined to give him a Qualifying Offer.  Do we trade from depth (RH relief, middle infield) and find a 5th starter that way?  Do we find a 5th starter from within?  Meanwhile the bullpen is now full of hard throwing righties, but we could lose all 3 of our lefties.  We may need to work the phones to retain these guys, or else we’re on the FA market.  I think (despite my discussion about converting Garcia to a 5th starter) that he’ll remain in the bullpen and may bump Henry Rodriguez out of a job.  One of our two closer-quality guys (Clippard and Storen) could be moved, cashing in on their value, which could open up a spot for a FA acquisition or a promotion from AAA.

Lots to be decided this off-season for Mike Rizzo, and this hasn’t even mentioned the dominos that will fall if/when the team makes a contract decision on Adam LaRoche.

  • AAA Rotation: Roark, Maya, Broderick, Meyers, Perry
  • AAA Bullpen: Tatusko (swingman), Arneson (swingman), Severino (loogy), Davis, Lehman, Nelo (closer), Martin,  Mandel

AAA Narrative: We have a lot of long-serving minor leaguers here; as it stands now only a few of them are even 40-man roster guys (Maya, Perry, Garcia).  The modern AAA roster construction is one of “spare parts” and prospects; do we have enough prospects to cover for injuries at the MLB level?  Which one of these AAA starters would Nats fans feel comfortable filling in were one of our starters to go down with injury?  Perhaps the Nats need to work on some starter depth via trade.  Brad Meyers was just returned from the Yankees after a season-long DL stint after being Rule-5 drafted, and seems likely to slot right back into the AAA rotation when he’s healthy.  Perry seems set to get a 4th option and should slot in here, looking to convert back to being a starter.  Broderick is a former Rule-5 pick and was claimed from St. Louis, who dumped him late last season.  I don’t think he’s anything more than a 4-A starter, but the organization seems to like him.

  • AA Rotation: Rosenbaum, Holder, Gilliam, Karns, Grace, Demny (swingman?) or MLFA?  Solis if he’s healthy?
  • AA Bullpen: Frias, McCoy, Selik (maybe high-A again), Holland (setup), Wort (closer), VanAllen (loogy), Demmin (maybe high-A again), an org arm or two to fill in.

AA narrative: We have a couple of interesting candidates in the AA rotation to start, but what may be more interesting is to see whether the likes of Gilliam and Demny hold onto their spots with the talent ready to rise up out of high-A.  Meanwhile, the bullpen has some interesting arms to keep an eye on.  I forgot to mention Solis in the AA write-up but remembered him here.  Two big questions for me in this AA rotation for 2013: 1) is Rosenbaum for real or is he going to sputter out before reaching MLB potential?   And, 2) Is Nathan Karns ready to make the leap?  I think Karns can quickly put his name in the mix to get promoted to AAA based on his performance in 2012.

  • High-A Rotation: Swynenberg, Ray, Meyer (maybe AA?), Schwartz (maybe low-A), Rauh (maybe low-A)
  • High-A Bullpen Competition: Barrett (maybe AA) , Testa, Smoker (loogy), Hill, Meza (perhaps a starter?), Holt, Hawkins, Bates, Mirowski
  • High-A bullpen Release candidates: Olbrychowski, McCatty, Applebee

High-A narrative: there’s too many arms for too few slots right now in all three of the A-levels.   There’s a ton of release candidates, and some guys who could be higher or lower.   I’d love to be a fly on the wall at the organizational meetings where all this evaluation is done.  Meyer dominated High-A last year; could he start in AA?   Barrett (by virtue of his AFL appearance) may also be AA material.

The same goes for the Low-A team below: I’ve got 5 logical rotation candidates, another 4 guys who make sense to be in the low-A rotation, and a slew of guys who seem to have earned their way to the low-A bullpen.  But there’s only 7 slots to go around.

  • Low-A Rotation: Turnbull, Jordan, Purke (if healthy), Monar, Mooneyham
  • Low-A Rotation Competitors: Hansen, Lee (loogy if not), Encarnation, McGeary (if finally healthy)
  • Low-A Bullpen Competition: Anderson, Estevez, Dupra, McKenzie, Henke, Davis, Boyden, Benincasa, Hudgins, Dicherry, Mudron

We acknowledge the folly of trying to predict short-season staffs which will mostly be populated with 2013 draftees, especially under the new CBA that shortens negotiation times, making it more likely college seniors are drafted (who sign quickly with zero leverage) and get playing.  That being said, there will definitely be guys who stay in extended spring training for a couple months and then get placed on these rosters along with new draftees.  Here’s some guesses based on 2012 performances; all blank spots filled by 2013 draftees or by some of the guys who drop down from low-A.

  • Short-A Rotation: Baez, Pineyro
  • Short-A Bullpen: Smith (if not released), Fischer, Medina, Pena, Mendez

GCL blank spots filled by younger 2013 draftees (HS, Juco and college juniors/seniors from smaller schools) and by rising DSL grads.

  • GCL Rotation: Mieses (if not released), Barrientos, Vasquez
  • GCL Bullpen: Heredes

Nats 2012 Minor League Rotations: Guesses and Results

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Yunesky Maya led the Nats minor league starters for the 2nd straight summer. Photo Jim McGregor/Syracuse Chiefs via milb.com

I stumbled across this post, titled “Updated Minor League Rotation Predictions for 2012,” posted March 1st 2012, while looking for something else last week.  And I thought to myself, hey now that I’ve finished the reviews of the minor league teams, lets see how I did predicting the rotations at the beginning of the season!   I’ve also culled through the post-2011 season review posts for some preliminary guesses at the time.

(Note: I linked to NationalsProspects.com Luke Erickson‘s guesses in the above link for another perspective in the 2012 spring training).

Players are bolded the first time they’re mentioned, but not afterwards.

AAA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Maya, Milone, Stammen, Meyers, Peacock, Martis
  • Mar 12 Guess: Stammen, Maya, Arneson, Ballard, Buschmann
  • Opening Day Rotation: Atkins, Roark, Maya, Lannan and Duke
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Maya, Roark, Duke, Lannan, Atkins

What happened?  My prediction was way, way off; only Maya was the constant, but we knew that the second he proved he couldn’t get out MLB hitters last fall.  The team traded two of its probable AAA starters (Peacock and Milone), lost a third to the Rule-5 draft (Meyers, who honestly we probably will get back once the Yankees are done screwing around with him) and a 4th to Minor League Free Agency (Martis).  Meanwhile, who knew that Lannan wasn’t going to make the MLB opening day roster?  Then, the team released Buschmann before he appeared in a game (he played 2012 in the Tampa Bay organization).  Ballard was a starter, just not in AAA.  Stammen, in a surprise to me, made the conversion from AAA starter in 2011 to MLB bullpen guy and had a great  year.  Lastly, instead of using more internal options like Roark the team signed two MLFAs in Duke and Atkins.  I suppose I could have guessed that the team would go with Roark before Arneson as a starter (given Arneson’s rubber-armed handling in 2011).  It just goes to show how much the creation of AAA teams has changed over the years.

AA:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Rosenbaum, BronsonDemny, Olbrychowski,  Solis
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Rosenbaum, Bronson, Demny, Olbrychowski, Gilliam
  • Opening Day Rotation: Gilliam, Demny, Mandel, Rosenbaum and Ballard
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Rosenbaum, Demny, Gilliam, Perry, Ballard/Pucetas

We were a bit closer here, getting 3 of the 5 guesses right.  Sammy Solis would absolutely have been in this rotation if not for his Tommy John surgery; we’ll cross our fingers for him to return in 2013.  When Solis went out, org-arm Mandel filled in.  Evan Bronson is still with the organization on Milb.com but never threw an inning in 2012 and isn’t on the Big Board.  I can’t find a single bit of google information indicating if he’s still with the team or not.  Weird.  Meanwhile I had just guessed too high for Olbrychowski; he spent most of 2012 as a starter in Potomac.  Nobody could have guessed that we’d have traded Balester for Perry, that Perry would have stunk as a reliever, and then would show up in AA remaking himself as a starter.  Ballard and Pucetas were MLFA pickups designed to fill holes in the system, though based on his prior experience I had Ballard pegged in the AAA rotation.

High-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill, Karns
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Selik, Grace, Purke, Meyer, Hill
  • Opening Day Rotation: Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Grace, Ray, Swynenberg, Olbrychowski, Karns

I was far off here as well; Purke got hurt, Meyer, Hill and Karns started lower than I would have guessed  and Selik was converted to a reliever.  I was right only on Grace (thought technically I thought Olbrychowski would be a starter, just not back in Potomac).  Winters was a MLFA (the fifth such MLFA who has appeared as a primary starter in our top three levels; is this a statement of some sort?).  As we’ll see in a moment, I was right about Hansen, just wrong about the level.  Lastly Swynenberg came out of nowhere; he was effective in middle-relief in low-A; who knew he’d win a spot in the high-A rotation?  I thought Ray would have done a few turns in low-A; instead he debuted in Potomac and struggled to make the jump.  I lost faith in Karns between September 2011 and March 2012; as it turned out he was one of the 5 top starters (in terms of appearances) for the year while putting in a career season.

Low-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Hansen, Jordan, Cole, Ray, Estevez, McGeary
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Turnbull, Hansen, Ray, McGeary, Karns
  • Opening Day Rotation: Estevez, Dupra/Karns, Meyer, Turnbull/Hill, McKenzie
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Hill, Meyer, Turnbull, Estevez, Hansen

What happened?  The team traded Cole.  Jordan was injured more than we were led to believe in late 2011 (he had Tommy John surgery after the season was over).   I predicted Hansen, Ray, Hill, Estevez, Meyers and Dupra would be starters, just got the levels wrong.   My Mar 12 guesses were somewhat accurate in that we got Turnbull and Karns right.  McGeary struggled through yet another injury filled season and may be nearing the end of his baseball career.  I thought Estevez was getting squeezed out with all these high-profile starters rising up.  I figured McKenzie had lost his starting shot; clearly his performance in 2012 should end his chances at getting another 2013 starting shot.  I guess the lesson here is that it can be awful difficult to determine the difference between a High-, Low- and Short-A guy.

Short-A:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks.
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Manny Rodriguez, Dupra, Baez and two draft picks
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Jordan/Medina, Baez, Monar, Encarnation, and Smith
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Encarnation, Monar, Lee, Mooneyham, Fischer/Pineyro

My guess of 3 returners and 2 draft picks wasn’t entirely accurate; there wasn’t a single 2012 draft pick in the 2012 opening day rotation.  We got Baez pegged correctly but the rest of the predictions were off.  Manny Rodriguez, a converted infielder, spent the whole year on the 60-day DL.  Dupra was in high-A.  Meanwhile, a couple of guys dropping down from Low-A (Jordan, Encarnation) comprised the rotation at the beginning of the season.  Monar was a repeater from 2011 who didn’t get a ton of innings last  year.  Eventually some 2012 draftees (Mooneyham, Fischer and others) got starts as expected, and helped drive Auburn to the playoffs.

GCL:

  • Sept 11 Guess: Mieses, King, Encarnation, Medina, Marcelino
  • Mar 12 Guess:  Mieses repeating plus 4 guys from DSL and the 2012 draft.
  • Opening Day Rotation:  Mieses, Barrientos, Pineyro, Vasquez, and Schwarz
  • 5 guys with the most starts in 2012: Vasquez, Mieses, Hudgins, Selsor, Pineyro/Schwartz

Finally we got one right (well, right from Mar 12 guess anyway).  The GCL rotation was Mieses, 3 DSL graduates and one 2012 draftee.  Eventually more 2012 draftees (Hudgins, Selsor and others) consumed most of the rest of the starts.  King disappeared from the rosters; he’s still in the organization but was never assigned this season.  Injured?  Disciplinary issues?   There seems to be so much inconsistency in the DSL graduates that it almost isn’t worth tracking them until they appear in a higher level.  Honestly, this is why I don’t really follow the Dominican Summer League teams either.

Phew; that’s a lot of Nats minor league starters.  As it showed, its really, really difficult to predict this stuff from a computer in Northern Virginia, scouting the stat lines.  But its really fun, so we’ll continue to do it :-) .

Potomac/High-A Pitching Staff Year in Review; 2012

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Nathan Karns parlayed his first healthy pro season into an Organizational POTY award. Photo Potomac Nationals official via milb.com

Click here for the 2011 version of this post, for a look at how things were last year.

Here’s the High-A version of the 2012 season pitching staff review.  I’m going down the line from top to bottom; AAA is here, AA is here.  As with the other reviews, we’ll look at the main rotation, the substitute and spot starters, then focus on key relievers.  Rehab appearances are generally not mentioned.

Potomac starters.  The rotation started the season with Winters, Hansen, Olbrychowski, Grace and Swynenberg.  Lets see how the original rotation and other primary starters fared.

  • Kyle Winters, an off season minor league free agent pickup, was Potomac’s opening day starter.  But he wasn’t long for the rotation; he got shelled en-route to posting a 7.02 era in 8 starts before getting released.  It does not seem like anyone else picked him up (except perhaps in Indy ball).  Lets be honest; it is never a good sign to have minor league free agents playing significant roles on high-A ball clubs.  Outlook for next season: in another organization or out of baseball.
  • High-A proved to be too much for Bobby Hansen, who put up a 5.85 ERA in 6 starts (9 total appearances) before being moved back to Low-A, where he spent 2011.  He’s young; he has yet to turn 23, so even low-A isn’t the worst place for him.  But he’ll be entering his 6th pro season in 2013 and you’d like to see him throw more than 50 innings in a season.  Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.
  • Adam Olbrychowski wasn’t able to build on his 2011 season in High-A, regressing badly and posting a 6.24 ERA in 26 appearances (16 starts).  He lost his rotation spot halfway through the season and didn’t fare well out of the pen.   This trade didn’t work out for either team really (the Nats traded Justin Maxwell to the Yankees for Olbrychowski    in January 2011 and released him themselves; he now plays for Houston).  Outlook for next season: either one last shot in the High-A bullpen or released.
  • Matthew Grace put in his third year as a full-time starter with the Organization, and he continues to be hit or miss.  On the season he posted a 9-12 record with a 4.84 ERA and 83/48 k/bb ratio in 141 1/3 innings, but you never know what you’re getting with him.  His final start of the season featured 8 shutout innings, but his first start in August was a 3-inning 9 hit meltdown.  Outlook for next season: the organization stuck with him after a 5.17 ERA in a full season of low-A; no reason to think they won’t continue to stick with him in 2013.  AA rotation, perhaps re-peating High-A if the numbers don’t work out.
  • Matt Swynenberg was in and out of the rotation, not really excelling as either a starter or a reliever on the year.  7-5, 4.92 ERA on the season.   He was a bit unlucky on the season; he had a .343 BABIP and his FIP was a bit lower than his ERA.   Outlook for next season: he’s still young (turned 23 in February) and has plenty of time to improve.  And, given that he was a 28th round draft pick, anything he contributes is absolute gravy to the organization).   Look for him to be leading the High-A rotation in 2013 with an eye for mid-season promotion.
  • Robbie Ray was last year’s sensation, an 19-yr old dominating in Low-A.  He clearly suffered from a sophomore slump, going 4-12 with a 6.56 ERA in 22 “starts” (I put that in quotes since he had one 5-inning “relief” appearance in June).  What happened?  His K’s were down, Walks up, HRs up, BABIP unlucky, and his FIP was a full point and a half lower than his ERA.  So it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  Plus, he’s only 20 in high-A, where a lot of college guys take a year and a half to get to.  I’m not worried at all; i’ll bet he’s back to being dominant in 2013 repeating the level.  Outlook for next season: back in the High-A rotation.
  • Nathan Karns finally got a healthy full season of pitching under his belt after getting paid 3rd round money as a 12th round draft pick in the high-spending 2009 draft, and the organization finally got a look at what Karns can do: A 2.17 ERA in 24 appearances (18 starts) across 116 innings between low- and high-A.  This was no fluke either; all his advanced stats support his performance and give reason to believe he’ll continue to develop.  He was named the Organization’s Pitcher of the  Year for 2012, usually a great indicator of future success for this team.  He’s a big guy with a great pitching frame (6’5″, 230lbs) and an even better mustache (see his profile picture at milb.com).  I think Karns may be our best or 2nd best starter prospect right now.  A ight concern may be his hitting the DL in mid-August after a couple of mediocre outings; I’d guess that he’s reached an innings limit for the season and was shutdown with an unspecified injury.  This may also explain why he’s not appearing in the AFL after such a season.  Outlook for next season: AA rotation.
  • Trevor Holder finally got promoted past high-A after repeating the league for the 4th time in 2012.  He got 10 starts in Potomac before being moved up mid-season.  He was pretty good in his 9 starts in High-A this year: 3-3 with a 3.72 ERA. Outlook for next season: (from the AA post): AA Rotation.
  • Alex Meyer excelled in 7 late-season starts in Potomac after throwing 90 innings in low-A to start the  year.  Final high-A stats: 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 39 innings.  His ancillary numbers declined slightly moving from low- to high-A (as one would expect), but his core capabilities seem to be the same.  He’s a HUGE guy (6’9″) and the downward plane on his fastball makes it incredibly difficult to hit in the air (only 6 homers allowed in 139IP).  A lot of pundits (myself included) were critical of Meyer starting in low-A as such an advanced draft prospect, but his numbers in high-A (a more legitimate evaluation of his skills age- and experience-wise) give great hope.  The organization has had him working on mechanics all year, worried that such a big guy was going to struggle to repeat his delivery (as highlighted by this Baseball America article, subscribers only sorry).  After being basically a 2-pitch guy in college, Meyer has reportedly added a 2-seam fastball that he throws at the same velocity as his 4-seamer to go with an 87-mph change-up.  Suddenly he’s a 4-pitch guy (2 plus-plus, one plus and one fringe) and that gives him a great chance of remaining a starter.  A 6’9″ throwing upper 90s has to look like 100+ to a hitter based on his release point, and despite most scouts opinion that he’d make a fantastic shut-down closer with his 2 plus-plus pitches, he has more value to the team as a starter.  Outlook for next season: I think he starts in High-A rotation again with an eye towards quick promotion to AA.
  • Robert Gilliam underperformed in AA, got demoted to high-A and gave Potomac 7 up-and-down starts down the stretch.   Final numbers in Potomac: 1-2, 4.25 ERA in 36ip.  Outlook for next season: (cut-n-pasted from AA post): The team likes him as a starter; i’m guessing they give him another whirl in the AA rotation with Meyer sitting in High-A waiting in the wings.
  • Taylor Hill got three late-season starts after toiling all year in Hagerstown.  Outlook for next season: see Low-A post.

  • Other guys who got spot starts here and there (non-rehab):
    • Ryan Demmin served as the mop-up/swing man for the team, giving them a K/9 reliever with a 4.57 ERA on the season.  He got a couple of spot starts but only went 7 innings between the two.  He gives up a lot of hits but doesn’t walk guys.  He could continue to be a useful middle reliever.  Outlook for next season: Likely the high-A bullpen again, though he could slot up to AA if the numbers don’t work out.
    • Paul Applebee, as with Demmin, was used mostly as a long man and got a spot start before going down with injury in June.  He wasn’t great when he did pitch (5.00 era in 36ip), but he’s been useful in the organization for a while.  Outlook for next season: High-A mop-up guy again, not knowing how severe his arm injury is.

Potomac Relievers: taking a look at the relief corps at the end of the season.  They used an awful lot of them.

  • Neil Holland continued an excellent string of seasons for this organization since being drafted in 2010.  He was close to unhittable in 2012: a 1.64 era in 60 innings and a sub 1.00 whip.  That’s fantastic.  Outlook for next season: see if he can repeat his performance in AA.
  • Rob Wort had, frankly, a pretty amazing season as Potomac’s closer.  He had an era of 2.38 over 56 2/3 innings, and had 13 saves.  That’s not why he was amazing; He had 95 Ks in those same 56 2/3 innings.  That is a 15.09 K/9 rate!!  For a 30-th round draft pick (i.e., a guy who was never really expected to make it out of rookie camp), that’s incredible.  Outlook for next season: closer in AA.
  • Joe Testa couldn’t repeat his excellent 2011 Potomac results, putting up an ugly 5.17 era in 38 IP.  The ugly part?  A perfect 1-1 ratio of walks to strikeouts on the year (31 walks, 31 Ks).  He turning 27 in December and is entering his 6th minor league season; I think its safe to say 2013 is a “show me” year for Testa. Outlook for next season: hard to see him moved up to AA; I see him repeating in the High-A bullpen, perhaps a pure Loogy.
  • Cameron Selik looked to have “figured out” the bullpen after being a starter for most of 2011, and had a fantastic 34/3 k/bb ratio in 22 high-A innings.  He earned a promotion, but begged out of his AA debut with what probably was a torn Lat.  He didn’t pitch again after June 5th.  A shame, since it would have been nice to see how he fared upon reaching AA. Outlook for next season: I’d start him in the High-A bullpen again to make sure he’s healthy, then promote him up to AA.
  • Aaron Barrett has gone from unknown 9th rounder to organizational top prospect in one season; after tearing through Low-A with 52 Ks in 34 innings, he allowed just 2 runs in 17 high-A innings to close out the  year.  His performance earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League along with a number of other high-profile Nats prospects.  Outlook for next season: As with Selik, I’d imagine he belongs in the AA bullpen; we’ll see if the numbers work out.  If not he starts in Potomac looking for a quick jump.
  • Josh Smoker, the Nats poster child for NOT drafting high school arms early, threw a grand total of 9.2 innings between three levels this year.  Its hard to believe, but he’ll play his 6th minor league season in our system in 2013 and then he’ll likely move on.  Outlook for next season: if healthy, High-A bullpen to try one last time to resurrect his Nats career.
  • Other Relievers who appeared in High-A of note (not including Rehabbing MLBers): Outlook for next season for all of these guys seems the same: either continued “org guy” middle reliever or minor league FA in another organization.
    • Adam Carr, a 28-yr old in high-A after spending most of 2011 in AAA.  Org arm.
    • Jimmy Barthmaier looked great in 19 High-A innings; he should since he’s 28 and in his 8th minor league season.
    • Shane McCatty struggled through a 6-week mid-season injury and an 8.83 ERA in high-A.  Nepotism seems to indicate that he’ll get another shot in 2013, deserved or not.
    • Wilson Eusebio was promoted twice, both times inexplicably based on his performance, and ended up getting lit up in Potomac.  He may be out of baseball after 2012.

Summary

Summary Potomac’s 5 opening day starters finished the season with these ERAs: 7.02, 5.85, 6.24, 4.84 and 4.92.  Thankfully guys like Meyer, Holder and Karns replaced some of these starts with decent ones later on in the season.  They got great performances up and down the bullpen though, which helped the team to remain in playoff contention late into the 2nd half (despite their sub .500 record).  At least they were dominant at home (21-13 first half, 21-15 second half), giving the Potomac fans a lot to cheer for.

Outlook for next season: see the Low-A post.

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.